Vegan Nutrition with Dina Aronson, M.S. R.D.

Dina AronsonDina Aronson, MS, RD is a vegan dietitian whose specialties include chronic disease prevention, vegetarian/vegan nutrition, and lifestyle management. She is the founder and director of, a nutrition consulting company. Active in many vegetarian nutrition organizations, Dina was the recipient of the American Dietetic Association's Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award in 2002.

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I was fairly positive that the only way to get dietary cholesterol was from animal products. I would sometimes use this as a point in arguments in support of my vegan diet. Recently my boyfriend argued that this is not true. He said that the partially hydrogenated oils, such as olive oil or vegetable oil, that I use for cooking turns into cholesterol. Is this true, or is he pulling my leg? - Neely

Dear Neely,

First, make a bet with your boyfriend that whoever is right will cook the other person a gourmet vegan dinner. Then, show this to your boyfriend.

You are correct: the only way to get dietary cholesterol is from animal products. This is because cholesterol is manufactured by the livers of animals (including humans), and since plants don't have livers, cholesterol is found only in foods of animal origin. And since humans can make cholesterol without getting any from the diet, dietary cholesterol is not an essential (necessary) nutrient. The production of cholesterol is normal and healthy, as cholesterol serves many important functions in the body. Of course, as you know, too much cholesterol coursing through our veins is not healthy, as it increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.

That said, a vegan still may have high cholesterol if the liver produces too much cholesterol. What stimulates the liver to produce cholesterol? Cholesterol production is a complex process, driven by genetics, diet, and other factors. One of the dietary factors that appears to stimulate cholesterol production is high intakes of saturated and trans fats (the types of fats found in hydrogenated oils). In that way, eating a lot of hydrogenated vegetable oils may cause the liver to overproduce cholesterol (this is different than these oils actually turning into cholesterol, which does not happen).

Studies show, by the way, that vegans have about 35% lower blood cholesterol levels than omnivores.

Now, go make yourself comfortable and wait for your gourmet vegan dinner to be served!