The Complete Guide to Keto and Cholesterol

The keto diet has taken the world by storm. The health benefits and weight loss results that people experience when trying this method of eating have launched the Keto diet into homes of people across the globe. If you’re new to Keto and exploring the many health benefits this diet has you might be wondering what effect the Keto diet could have on your cholesterol levels. The great news is that there are promising signs that the Keto diet can lower your bad cholesterol levels. Read on to learn everything you need to know about your cholesterol and the Keto diet.

Keto overview

First off, what is Keto? A very simple explanation of this diet is that it changes the way your body burns fuel. The majority of North American diets today consist of a high number of carbohydrates. This works perfectly for how our body prefers to source its energy. When you eat carbs your body turns them into glucose, also known as blood sugar. Glucose is a rapid source of energy; however, you might feel hungry within hours of eating because glucose is also burned by your body quickly. Any glucose that isn’t used right away for fuel gets stored in your body as fat to be used later when your body needs it.

The problem with this is that your body rarely needs this stored fat so it just sits there. You most likely have a steady supply of food so when your body has burned through the glucose it needs and it sends hunger signals to your brain you’re more likely to reach for your next meal as opposed to letting your body burn away the fat it stored. This is why modern-day humans eat so frequently and it’s a contributing factor as to why so many of us are overweight.

The Keto diet breaks up this eat, crash, hunger, eat cycle by allowing our body access to that large store of fat reserves. When you stop consuming carbohydrates on the Keto diet your body is forced to find its energy in another place. Your liver begins creating ketones from your fat. These ketones are then used by your body as energy. Burning fat gives your body a steady supply of food and you get hungry less often. This is great for weight loss. The fact that your body is burning away stored fat also helps with weight loss efforts. However, weight loss isn’t the only health benefit of the Keto diet.

What is cholesterol

Cholesterol is a problem for many of us. However, the terms can be confusing. How can some cholesterol be good and other forms of cholesterol be bad? Cholesterol is comprised of fatty cells known as lipids and it has an important role to play in the way your body functions. Without cholesterol, you wouldn’t be able to digest your food or produce hormones properly for your body. However, since cholesterol is found in the blood there can be problems when your cholesterol levels get too high. Some cholesterol is a good thing, too much of it can cause the lipids in your blood to be present in numbers high enough to clog up your arteries and cause heart problems.

LDL

LDL, or Low-density-lipoprotein, is what’s known as the “bad” cholesterol. When your LDL numbers get too high you’re at risk for heart problems and blocked arteries. Scientists believe that high levels of LDL are responsible for your arteries narrowing due to blockages caused by lipids building up.

HDL

HDL, or high-density-lipoprotein is what’s known as “good” cholesterol. Just as LDL might be responsible for the narrowing of arteries, there are signs that HDL might do the opposite and help clear your arteries of blockages while expanding them.  The higher you can get your HDL numbers the better it will be for your heart health.

How does Keto affect your cholesterol levels?

Keto appears to play a role in both your LDL and HDL cholesterol levels. Keto removes a lot of the grains that can increase your HDL and lower your LDL because they’re too high in carbs. High levels of LDL are also often found in people that have a high-fat diet and Keto requires you to prioritize healthy fats over protein and carbohydrates. Despite this, there’s evidence that shows that the Keto diet might actually have positive effects on your overall cholesterol levels. The evidence in studies to date is conflicting; however, the following are the positive and negative effects that scientists have discovered when it comes to Keto and your cholesterol levels.

Positive effects

Triglycerides are found in the liver and some studies have shown that people on the Keto diet have lower levels of triglycerides in their bodies. Lower triglycerides lead to higher levels of HDL, the good cholesterol. A study back in 2004 that followed participants over the course of 6 months placed participants in two groups of dieting. The group that ate a low-fat diet lost weight; however, the group that followed a keto diet lost more weight and also had higher levels of the good cholesterol HDL in their bloodstream. The Keto group also had lower levels of triglycerides overall.

There was another study done that followed participants over the course of one year. This study agreed with the results of the 2004 study. They found that participants on the Keto diet had a higher level of HDL in their blood as well as lower triglyceride levels. It’s important to note that all of the people involved in this study suffered from obesity. It’s possible that the results would be different with a more randomized group of participants consisting of various weight ranges.

Eating a low carb diet that replaces carbohydrates with healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil and nut butter leads to a raise in your HDL levels which can help to reduce your risk of heart problems, stroke and diabetes.

Safety concerns

There have only been a few studies done that specifically reviewed how Keto affects your cholesterol levels. In addition to the studies above that recorded positive impacts on your cholesterol when following a Keto diet, there were a few that noted opposite findings.

One study showed that instead of raising your HDL levels and positively affecting your cholesterol, a Keto diet actually raised the LDL levels of the participants. There was also a study done more recently in 2016 that noted the participants who followed a Keto diet not only saw a rise in their LDL levels but they also saw a decrease in their HDL levels.

The safest thing to do is to have your blood levels monitored to see whether Keto is affecting you positively or negatively. There haven’t been enough studies done yet to reliably say whether Keto is good or bad for your cholesterol levels. Talk to your doctor prior to beginning the Keto diet and get them to do a base test of your cholesterol levels. Then after beginning continue to see them and get your levels monitored. You’re looking to see your LDL levels dropping along with your triglycerides. If your LDL levels begin to rise then it’s possible that the Keto diet isn’t the right diet for you.

Foods for lowering cholesterol on keto

There are some foods that you can eat on the Keto diet that can help you lower your LDL levels. There are also some foods that you might want to steer clear of because they might have a negative effect on your cholesterol levels.

Fats are an important part of the Keto diet. However, if your diet is full of saturated fats you might be raising your risk of developing high cholesterol or heart disease. Instead of eating fatty red meats try to focus on the unsaturated fats that are found in fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines. Not only are these great sources of unsaturated fats, they’re also full of healthy omega 3’s. Butter is another saturated fat culprit. If you’re not concerned about your cholesterol levels then butter has many health benefits; however, if high cholesterol is a concern for you opt instead for margarine which has polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. The same goes for coconut oil. Instead of coconut oil consider extra virgin olive oil.

When it comes to dairy products most are keto-friendly. However, in order to be cholesterol friendly, you should opt for the low-fat versions of your favorite milk or yogurt. Seeds and nuts are also great sources of healthy fats along with being high in nutrients and protein. If you’re looking to up your fat content in a heart-healthy way on the Keto diet toss a few chia seeds into your shake or on your salad for a polyunsaturated fat boost.

Conclusion

The jury is still out when it comes to cholesterol and the Keto diet. There is some promising research that shows that the Keto diet might raise your healthy cholesterol and lower your bad cholesterol levels. However, more studies have to be done. In the meantime talk to your doctor and get your cholesterol levels tested so that you can enjoy the numerous health benefits of the Keto diet safely.

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