Many people are concerned about the high cholesterol that can occur on a keto diet. Should you be worried too?
It depends. For some people, keto improves this risk factor for heart disease. For others, however, it doesn’t. It’s a tricky issue. Cholesterol levels depend not only on diet, but also on genetics and body composition.
Today you’ll learn why cholesterol is important and the scoop on keto and cholesterol. Let’s dig a little deeper.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a sterol (an organic molecule) that is used to construct cell membranes and helps synthesize hormones. It is vital to the life of animals.
When people talk about their “cholesterol,” they’re usually talking about the cholesterol in lipoproteins – the tiny transport vessels that travel through your cells in your bloodstream.
There are several types of lipoproteins, but the two most common (related to cholesterol testing) are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
LDL is called “bad cholesterol” because higher LDL cholesterol levels are associated with a higher risk of heart disease. But to say that LDL is “bad” is an oversimplification. LDL particles perform the essential function of delivering cholesterol, triglycerides and other nutrients to cells. Without them, we could not survive.
HDL is called “good cholesterol” because higher levels are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Why? Theoretically, higher cholesterol concentrations within HDL particles indicate that more cholesterol is being “cleaned out” of the arteries. Unfortunately, attempts to lower the risk of heart disease by raising HDL levels with drugs have failed.
It’s time to stop referring to HDL and LDL as “good” and “bad” cholesterol. Neither of these labels stand up to scientific scrutiny.
How does keto diet affect your cholesterol?
For most people, there are no adverse effects on lipid levels when consuming a ketogenic diet. Typical findings are stable LDL cholesterol levels, decreased triglycerides (good), and increased HDL cholesterol (also good). Some people may even see a decrease in their LDL.
In some people, a ketosis or low-carb diet will result in an increase in both LDL and HDL cholesterol levels. Or, only HDL cholesterol increases, leading to an improved LDL/HDL ratio.
A meta-analysis of randomized trials reported that people who ate a low-carbohydrate diet experienced, on average, a reduction in total LDL and small LDL particles, as well as an increase in peak LDL size.
However, an estimated 5 to 25% of people – regardless of weight loss – had a significant increase in LDL cholesterol under the influence of a very low-carbohydrate diet, sometimes by 200% or more.
How To Maintain Healthy Cholesterol On Keto
Has your cholesterol increased on the keto diet? Are you concerned that you may need to give up this diet and its potential benefits?
Here are four ways to lower your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels while maintaining a keto or low-carb lifestyle.
Eat only when hungry
Eat only when you are hungry and consider adding intermittent fasting. This may lower cholesterol levels. While most of the research on intermittent fasting and lowering LDL comes from low-quality observational studies during Ramadan, a recent pilot study on time-restricted eating showed a significant reduction in LDL.
Although we need more data, this is still a promising intervention.
Replace saturated with monounsaturated fat
Keto is a high-fat diet. Because of this, eating Keto requires eating more butter, animal fat, coconut oil and other sources of saturated fat than most people.
It is well known that consuming more saturated fats raises cholesterol levels. This is why keto and high cholesterol often coexist.
One way to alleviate high cholesterol in ketosis? Replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats.
The best sources of monounsaturated fats are olives, avocados and nuts (macadamia nuts are particularly high in them). Instead of eating fatty ribs, eat chicken and spinach salads drenched in olive oil. Instead of cooking with butter, cook with avocado oil.
Increase fiber intake
Fiber binds to cholesterol in the intestines, carrying it out through the stool and reducing your circulating cholesterol pool. Because of this, eating fiber-rich, low-carb vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli is a great way to maintain healthy cholesterol levels without kicking yourself out of ketosis.
Have more carbs
When you restrict carbohydrates, it keeps blood sugar and insulin levels low. This signals your body to burn fat and make ketone bodies.
But there are other effects of low insulin. Unfortunately, one of them is to slow down your liver’s clearance of LDL particles. This can lead to higher LDL levels.
By stimulating insulin release, eating carbohydrates can help you clear LDL faster. you can pulse your carbohydrates regularly (cyclical ketogenic diet) or simply increase your daily carbohydrates until your cholesterol improves.
It is important to work with a registered healthcare professional to monitor your cholesterol levels as you adjust your lifestyle habits. Because everyone is different, that’s how you’ll know what’s working.