I can not even count how many of my clients were concerned that a high-fat, Keto Diet will increase their cholesterol and increase their risk of cardiac disease.
This is probably one of the biggest Keto myths surrounding the Ketogenic Diet.
In this post, we will absolutely bust this myth as new research shows that keto can help lower total cholesterol.
You will learn exactly how cholesterol works in the body and hopefully, all fear will be dismissed.
TOPICS IN THIS BLOG POST:
- What most people know about cholesterol is flawed.
- I’ll show you that eating cholesterol doesn’t raise your cholesterol.
- Is there really something like “good” and “bad” cholesterol?
- What happens to your cholesterol when you do keto.
OLD RESEARCH IS FLAWED
Many doctors use cholesterol levels as a primary indicator of your health – and would then prescribe Statins if cholesterol is too high. (The truth is that Statins might not always be the best thing for some patients – according to an article by Dr Andreas Eenfeldt.
I am by no means a doctor or a medical professional, but the latest science and research show us why your cholesterol levels are pretty much meaningless as an indicator of health. In fact, it actually shows the opposite in that we need cholesterol.
THE REALITY IS THAT EATING KETO DOESN’T GIVE YOU HIGH CHOLESTEROL
In the early days when doctors first studied the human heart, they found a correlation between hardened and clogged arteries and an increase in cardiovascular disease. They then blamed cholesterol due to the plaque build-up they found in arteries.
I don’t quite blame them because if you look at the fat left in a pan after cooking fatty food – It could make sense why they came to that conclusion.
However, this is not how cholesterol works.
Some interesting facts about cholesterol:
- When most people talk about cholesterol, they usually refer to the lipid profile, which is actually the fat and fatty acids in your blood measured during a lipid panel test.
- Cholesterol plays a vital role in the building of hormones (like estrogen and testosterone), strengthening cell membranes, transporting vitamins, and helping you absorb all the nutrients from your food
- Did you know that your body is capable of producing all the cholesterol it needs to function? In fact, 75% of the body’s cholesterol is produced in-house by the body. Just 25% of the cholesterol in your body comes from your diet.
- The truth is that almost all the cholesterol from your food can’t be absorbed or used by your body in any way. The body processes it and it leaves the body as waste.
THE “GOOD” CHOLESTEROL, THE “BAD” CHOLESTEROL, AND THE “UGLY” LIE ABOUT CHOLESTEROL AND CHOLESTEROL
We have three primary sources of fuel for the body; glucose, free fatty acids (triglycerides), and then the ketones that are made from free fatty acids.
Sugar, aka glucose (once it’s in the body, and salt, can easily “mix” with your bloodstream for transportation around the body.
However, this is not the case for cholesterol or triglycerides. Cholesterol needs some sort of a carrier for transportation (think of it as a boat that cholesterol and triglycerides require to move through the bloodstream).
This boat or carrier is called lipoproteins, and they are responsible for carrying cholesterol to the cells and organs that need it most.
The lipoproteins we most often hear about are low-density lipoprotein (LDL), commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol”, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is seen as the “good cholesterol”.
Let’s take a look at the difference between these two types of carriers or lipoproteins.
HIGH-DENSITY LIPOPROTEINS (HDL)
HDL is much denser because it contains more protein than fat. HDL has also been labeled as the “good cholesterol” because it is responsible for transporting all the cholesterol that is not being used by the body back to the liver.
Another reason why it is seen as the good cholesterol is because of its anti-inflammatory properties that help to regulate your immune system while protecting you against certain types of cancers. In fact, low HDL-Cholesterol levels are not good for you at all. This study shows that with every drop of 1 mg/dL drop in HDL-cholesterol, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases by 4%.
LOW-DENSITY LIPOPROTEINS (LDL)
LDL is not as bad as it is made out to be, because it does exactly what it is supposed to do, and that is to transport cholesterol with nutrients to your cells.
However, LDL particles tend to move much slower than HDL, causing them often to get stuck in your bloodstream. As they are stuck, it gets attacked by free radicals and starts to oxidize. Oxidized LDL is much smaller and easier to break through your artery walls.
This then triggers your HDL-cholesterol to start removing the LDL, and the cholesterol that doesn’t get removed enters your artery walls and starts the process of plaque build-up (aka, atherosclerosis).
So, here’s the controversial question – if LDL cholesterol levels increase, does this indicate a risk for cardiovascular disease?
Contrary to conventional medicine – the answer is: No, not exactly.
Research now shows us that it’s not how much cholesterol you have when on Keto, but rather how big they are. In other words, is the cholesterol small enough to enter your artery walls and cause damage?
The real culprit here is very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) which are much smaller and more likely to break into your artery wall causing hardened arteries[*].
I know it seems technical, so let me summarise up to this point.
- LDL cholesterol is not bad.
- Instead, we need to be concerned about two things:
- VLDL (very low-density level) cholesterol; and
- The size of the LDL particles.
- It is vital to understand that LDL carries cholesterol around your body, whereas VLDL carries triglycerides.
I am going somewhere, so listen up:
The more triglycerides are available in your bloodstream, the more harmful VLDL cholesterol will be required to transport them – that makes sense as VLDL carries triglycerides.
Here is the conclusion we can make up to this point:
LDL is not necessarily bad for us.
What we should focus on instead is:
- What causes this influx of triglycerides that activate harmful VLDL cholesterol, and
- What causes LDL cholesterol size to decrease?
WHAT CAUSES THIS INFLUX OF TRIGLYCERIDES?
Let’s take for example a high-carb meal as above. When we consume a high-carb meal, the body will break it down into some simple sugars that the body can use immediately for energy.
However, most of it will not be used, and results in excess sugar in your bloodstream.
The body’s way to deal with this increased amount of sugar in your blood is to release insulin to try and move the sugar into your cells.
Here’s the punchline.
Unfortunately, the body’s ability to store sugar is relatively limited, and unless you are busy running a marathon, this EXCESS SUGAR WILL BE CONVERTED INTO TRIGLYCERIDES, which will then be stored as fat.
This is also why we see people who are insulin resistant have much higher levels of triglycerides in the blood. Insulin resistance is a result of consistently overeating carbohydrates and the body becoming resistant to insulin.
Based on this information, we can now determine what causes increased levels of harmful VLDL cholesterol.
In this specific study, researchers found that eating sugar and high fructose corn syrup increased triglycerides, VLDL, and decreased LDL particle size while reducing HDL. Guess what happened when these researchers removed the sugar from the control diets? They saw all of these markers improved radically.
So, the answer to my question earlier. “What causes increased levels of harmful VLDL cholesterol?”
A HIGH CARBOHYDRATE DIET INCREASES TRIGLYCERIDES and that is what leads to higher cardiovascular risks and metabolic disorders like obesity and type 2 diabetes.
HOW CAN A KETO DIET HELP BALANCE YOUR CHOLESTEROL?
Following the Keto Diet. Yes, even eating a high-fat diet, the fats actually improves your cholesterol profile.
When you’re on a Keto Diet, you’ll be replacing triglyceride-raising carbs with good fats that actually boost HDL and increase LDL particle size.
The Keto Diet creates the right balance between HDL and LDL so that you have enough HDL to remove the slow-moving LDL from the bloodstream.
Take a look at what Sylvan Lee Weinberg (former president of the American College of Cardiology) said regarding a low-fat diet [*]:
It is time that we all change the way we think about cholesterol! Limiting fat intake and dietary cholesterol, as we have been told, doesn’t work.
AND THIS IS WHERE THE KETOGENIC DIET COMES IN WITH CHOLESTEROL
Before I go on and link to some research below to prove what recent research tells us about the Ketogenic Diet and cholesterol, let me give you an example that is close to home.
My hubby lives a super healthy lifestyle. He has been health conscious long from a young age. He does vigorous workouts 5 times a week, and he literally never eats anything wrong. Super disciplined! When I met him, like most other “healthy conscious” people, he despised fat. He would typically trim the fat off from his meat, only use spray and cook, and only drink fat-free milk.
Before we started Keto, he was diagnosed with extremely high cholesterol (7,8) With a cholesterol level this high, most doctors will prescribe Statins in this case. He also had high blood pressure. Not consuming any fat in your diet, and living very “healthy” – it doesn’t make any sense that he would have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, right?
This picture was taken when he was at the peak of his high cholesterol diagnosis. Doesn’t look like someone who has high cholesterol. Looks like someone super healthy if you ask me.
One might argue that maybe his high cholesterol is genetic or hereditary?
Fast forward six months into following a ketogenic diet. This is after much deliberation and convincing that I was not out to widow myself.
Six months into keto we tested his cholesterol again. Low and behold, his cholesterol levels came down to 3.2 and so did his blood pressure!
This is first-hand experience that eating a high-fat diet does not increase your cholesterol.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY
Recent research supports what we experienced first hand.
- A study was done by the DEPARTMENT OF CARDIOLOGY AT KASHAN UNIVERSITY, specifically looked at the cholesterol biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in overweight patients following a Ketogenic Diet – Let me show you what they found:
- The LDL particle size increased and was less prone to oxidation.
- HDL levels increased significantly to deal with LDL before it oxidizes.
- The LDL to HDL ratio improved.
- Triglycerides decreased, and the triglyceride to HDL ratio improved.
- Another study by the COMMONWEALTH SCIENTIFIC AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH ORGANIZATION found that the patients that went Keto experienced an average increase of 20.6% in their HDL cholesterol levels — a whopping four times higher compared to those in the low-fat group.
- This long-term trial in the JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL & CLINICAL CARDIOLOGY had overweight patients on a Keto Diet for 24 weeks.
They saw lower triglycerides, decreased body weight and body mass index, better blood glucose and better LDL profiles — and an increase in HDL.
Instead of being worried about eating a high-fat diet, we should be concerned about eating too many carbohydrates.
THE BENEFITS OF CHOLESTEROL AND SATURATED FAT
As much as cholesterol and saturated fat have been demonized, it actually performs many vital roles in the body.
The benefits of saturated fat:
- Saturated fat is responsible for creating HEALTHY CELL MEMBRANES – 50% of cell membranes consist of saturated fatty acids, and they are responsible for the integrity of cells by ensuring stiff cell walls.
- Saturated fat helps build STRONG BONES. Saturated fat is needed so that calcium can be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure.
- Saturated fat PROTECTS THE LIVER against alcohol and other toxins.
- Saturated fats IMPROVE YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM because your white blood cells need adequate amounts of saturated fat to properly recognize and destroy foreign invaders like viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
- Saturated fat PROTECTS OUR DIGESTIVE TRACT due to its antimicrobial properties that protect us against harmful microorganisms.
the benefits of cholesterol:
- We have now seen that our blood vessels become damaged due to the irritation caused by free radicals or because the vessels are structurally weak. Which we now understand, the biggest culprit being a high-carb diet. When the body recognizes that blood vessels are damaged, cholesterol is sent to REPAIR THE BLOOD VESSEL DAMAGE.
- Just like saturated fats, cholesterol is also responsible for creating STRONG CELL MEMBRANES. A diet high in omega-6 oils, or vegetable oils tend to weaken your cellular walls. Cholesterol is sent to these tissues to give its structural integrity.
- Cholesterol also IMPROVES SEROTONIN levels. Cholesterol plays a vital role in the production and function of serotonin receptors. Serotonin is the body’s feel-good chemical, and low levels of cholesterol have been linked to depression and aggression.
- Cholesterol is the building block of many critical hormones. Contrary to what we have been told, cholesterol is actually a fundamental BUILDING BLOCK FOR ESSENTIAL HORMONES that help us deal with stress and protect us against cancer and heart disease. It is also vital to the PRODUCTION OF SEX HORMONES like estrogen, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone.
- Cholesterol allows our bodies to ABSORB VITAMIN D. Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin needed for healthy bones, a healthy nervous system, insulin production, reproduction, the immune system, proper growth, mineral metabolism, and muscle tone.
- Cholesterol plays a vital role in the CREATION OF BILE which is essential for the digestion and digestion of fats in your diet.
- Cholesterol acts as an ANTIOXIDANT, which is why we see cholesterol levels tend to increase with age. As an antioxidant, cholesterol protects us against free radical damage that can lead to heart disease and cancer.
- Cholesterol helps maintain INTESTINAL HEALTH. People with low cholesterol-vegetarian or vegan diets often develop leaky gut syndrome and have intestinal disorders due to low cholesterol.
If you’ve reached the end of this very lengthy post, congratulations!
Cholesterol and Keto is a hot topic and a real concern for people with high levels of cholesterol. So, perhaps leaving you with this testimonial from one of my clients will also help discourage some of the concerns you may have about cholesterol and keto.
If you have any other questions about this topic, feel free to click on this link and schedule a free, no-obligation, 30-minute Zoom session with me where you can ask me any questions or if you just want to find out more about the ketogenic diet.