Anyone who follows me on social media or subscribes to my website knows I’m a strong supporter of the low carb, high fat ketogenic diet. Personally, I’ve seen incredible weigh loss results, losing 40lbs since cutting back carbs.
However, with the keto diet and its promotion of high fat consumption, one of the primary concerns among keto diet skeptics is the long-term impact on cholesterol levels – specifically, not dropping dead from blocked arteries and heart disease!
After being on a low carb high fat ketogenic diet for well over a year, I decided to finally put this debate to rest and get my cholesterol levels tested.
Did eating bacon, butter, cream and cheese give me high cholesterol levels and put me at risk of heart disease?
The lab has spoken and my blood test results are in…
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CHOLESTEROL Levels: GOOD vs. BAD
First, it’s important to note there are two types of cholesterol in the body:
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol, of which can build up in our arteries, causing heart disease.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL), referred to as “good” cholesterol, which carries cholesterol throughout our body and into our liver so our liver can process and remove excess cholesterol from our body.
It’s important to have healthy levels of both types of cholesterol…
Here’s where confusion and debate often come in…
Studies have shown patients on low carb, ketogenic diets actually have slightly elevated levels of good cholesterol (HDL), which in turn results in lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), for an overall improved cholesterol profile.
*Remember, good HDL carries the bad LDL through our blood and into our livers, which is then filtered out of our body.
Recently, a May 2018 study tracked 262 participants for one year and found an improvement in 22 out of 26 markers of cardiovascular disease (CVD):
Nutritional ketosis has demonstrated diabetes status improvement while improving many CVD risk factors including atherogenic dyslipidemia, inflammation and blood pressure while decreasing the use of antihypertensive medications. Source.
Markers (a.k.a. biomarkers), are basically medical signs or measurements which can give rise to a particular disease if left untreated. For example, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease.
So, it seems as though research shows a significantly lower risk of heart disease as well as inflammation in the body while on a ketogenic diet.
BUT WHAT ABOUT MY test results?
According to MayoClinic.org,
"A complete cholesterol test is a blood test that can measure the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.
A cholesterol test can help determine your risk of the buildup of plaques in your arteries that can lead to narrowed or blocked arteries throughout your body.
High cholesterol levels usually don't cause any signs or symptoms, so a cholesterol test is an important tool. High cholesterol levels often are a significant risk factor for heart disease."
So, even though I feel great I still need to get my cholesterol levels checked because there are no noticeable signs or symptoms of having high cholesterol.
DOC, WHAT ARE WE LOOKING FOR?
A cholesterol test is comprised of four critical measurements:
Total cholesterol. The total amount of cholesterol in our blood.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This is the "good" cholesterol which helps carry away the bad LDL cholesterol from clogging our arteries.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The "bad” cholesterol which leaves fatty buildup (called plaques) in our arteries and can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Triglycerides. Unhealthy fat buildup in our blood. For example, any calories we don’t burn off through exercise are converted into triglycerides, which are then stored in fat cells. Having high triglyceride levels can lead to obesity, elevated blood sugar, and a risk of developing diabetes.
Once the test results are in, each of the four elements above will be measured in mmol/L (millimoles per litre) – similar to how we measure our blood ketone levels as outlined in this recent ketone blood test article:
According to MayoClinic.org, here’s what we’re looking for in terms of healthy results. Note, depending where you live the unit of measurement might be different:
Now, let’s complete the results from my cholesterol test and see how I stack up…
Based on what we’ve learned about high cholesterol levels and the negative impacts of bad LDL cholesterol, I’m extremely happy with these results!
So, if eating a low carb high fat diet for more than a year has resulted in near optimal cholesterol levels...
WHY DOES FAT HAVE SUCH A BAD REPUTATION?
For decades, doctors have focused on lowering (bad) LDL cholesterol levels which has resulted in the promotion of low-fat (and therefore, high-carbohydrate) diets.
The issue, however, is nearly every biomarker (except LDL) gets worse while on a high-carbohydrate diet, which leads to far more health risks, including:
High blood pressure,
Increased blood glucose levels,
And much, much more.
High-carbohydrate diets have resulted in widespread obesity…
Unfortunately, due to this increased obesity, the World Health Organization projects a continued rise in the prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes…
WHAT’S THE CONCLUSION?
First of all, before changing your diet please consult your doctor or healthcare professional.
If you are going to attempt a low carbohydrate high fat keto diet, the key is to ensure you are eating healthy fats which are high in good cholesterol (HDL), and low in bad cholesterol (LDL) – check out the infographic below.
I also recommend getting your blood checked before making any changes to your diet. It’s important to assess your current cholesterol levels to determine a baseline and observe your changes over time.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get my blood checked before I started the keto diet so I cannot look back and see how my cholesterol profile has change. However, I now get my blood checked (at a minimum) once per year, and closely monitor the results with my doctor.
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