Does keto lower cholesterol? This is a common question that people considering starting the keto diet often have. Since the ketogenic diet requires followers to eat high amounts of healthy fat and moderate amounts of protein, there’s a common misconception that a keto diet could increase cholesterol levels.
Related reading: Doesn’t A High Fat Diet Clog Up Your Arteries?
Having a high cholesterol level in the body can lead to serious health issues as it could increase your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attack.
However, according to some research, the keto diet may, in fact, help to optimize cholesterol levels and even improve cardiovascular health. So in this article, let’s understand how does keto lower cholesterol level to find out if the diet is safe or not.
Related reading: 5 Amazing Health Benefits of Keto Diet
How Keto Works
As you may already know, the ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high healthy fat diet. By starving your body of carbohydrates your body will be forced to go into a metabolic state known as ketosis. While in this state, your body will start burning fats for energy, which then leads to weight loss.
Related reading: How Does the Keto Diet Work?
A standard diet usually consists of lots of carbs. And if we keep on eating carbs, the fats that we eat will not be used. They will accumulate and get stored as fat, which then leads to weight gain.
But aside from weight loss, the keto diet comes with several other health benefits. One of these is in improving heart health by reducing cholesterol levels. According to a 2017 review, studies done on animals and humans following the keto diet have shown a significant drop in cholesterol levels.
Related reading: How a Low Carb High Fat Diet Affects your Cholesterol
However, the review concluded that the diet’s positive effects on heart health depends on the quality of the diet.
Let’s find out more about this by understanding what cholesterol is.
To find out more about the question does keto lower cholesterol, let’s try to understand what cholesterol really is. You may have heard about this several times before, but a majority of people don’t quite understand what cholesterol is nor its role in your body.
Cholesterol refers to a waxy substance that our body produces. Every cell of our body is capable of producing cholesterol since it plays several roles in our body, such as hormone synthesis, cell integrity, production of bile acids, and formation of myelin which covers nerves including your brain and spinal cord.
You may not realize that your liver produces around 75% of cholesterol and you only get 25% from the foods you eat like eggs, poultry, dairy, and red meat. Simply reducing cholesterol in your diet does not stop it being produced in your body.
There are two types of cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, which has become known as “bad cholesterol” although it is needed in the right amount and type, and HDL cholesterol, which is known as “good cholesterol”.
LDL Particle size and number
However when having a cholesterol test it’s important to know your LDL particle size. If you have mostly small LDL particles you have a high risk of heart disease, while if you have mostly large particles you have a low risk.
However, scientists now believe that the most important marker is the LDL particle number (LDL-p), which measures how many LDL particles are floating around in your bloodstream. This is not the same as the particle concentration (LDL-c) which you are likely to get measured by your doctor.
It’s important to get the right test done if you really want to know your risk. The fact that people with normal cholesterol still get heart attacks could be down to the fact they the particle concentrations were not measured or the fact they had a lot of damage to their arteries and cholesterol was laid down to repair the damage.
There is much more to heart attacks than just blaming cholesterol. We need cholesterol because all our cells contain it.
Does Keto Lower Cholesterol?
Since the keto diet is a diet that’s high in fats, it’s common for people to assume that the diet can increase cholesterol levels. However, many types of research suggest otherwise.
In one study over 56 weeks 35 obese participants with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 who had high cholesterol levels and 31 participants with normal cholesterol level were placed on a keto diet of 20grams carbohydrate daily.
A the end of the study the weight and BMI of both groups decreased significantly. The level of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and blood glucose level decreased significantly and HDL cholesterol increased significantly.
The study suggests as others have done that the low carbohydrate diet is safe to use for a longer period of time in people with obesity. .
But how does keto lower cholesterol?
How the Keto Diet Affects Cholesterol Levels
First of all, it’s important to know that the effects of the keto diet on cholesterol will vary from one person to another. Some people following the diet could experience an increase in HDL cholesterol level while others could experience an increase in both LDL and HDL. In some cases, the rise in cholesterol level will only be temporary and will go away with time.
The reason behind the disparity could be due to a condition known as familial hypercholesterolemia, which is a form of genetically inherited high cholesterol. People who have this condition will generally have high cholesterol regardless of the diet that they follow. These people are not able to regulate cholesterol levels as efficiently compared to other people.
Daniel Soffer, MD, an internist and lipidologist at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, has stated
If these individuals follow a keto diet, their LDL levels can skyrocket
According to the American Heart Association only about 10% of people know they have it. It’s important therefore to know your family history and keep a check on your cholesterol.
Based on scientific studies, here are some ways in which the keto diet could influence the cholesterol:
- Improves the LDL to HDL ratio, which means that the diet could increase the good cholesterol levels, adjusting the impacts of bad cholesterol.
- Lowers the triglycerides, a type of stored fat, since your body will use the fats for fuel.
- Improves the triglyceride to HDL ratio.
- Increases LDL molecule measure leading to a lower risk of oxidative stress.
The effect of the keto diet on cardiovascular health is not actually as straightforward as it sounds. But several studies have proven that the diet may not have any detrimental effects on your cholesterol level.
Another major factor that could influence the effect of keto on cholesterol is the quality of the diet. If you load up on trans and processed fats, then your LDL level will naturally go up.
So eat foods that are high in unsaturated fats instead. These include avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish. Avoid highly processed foods, and always choose nutritious and least processed ones.
So, does keto lower cholesterol? If we weigh the evidence and results of a number of scientific studies, yes, it does. These studies show that the benefits of the keto diet far outweigh the negatives when it comes to cholesterol.
However, people with certain genetic variations may need to adjust their diet to meet the optimal benefits that the keto diet can have on cholesterol levels.
If you are among those people who are genetically predisposed to have high cholesterol, or you have a history of elevated cholesterol, it is best to talk to a doctor or nutritionist before following a keto diet. And everyone will benefit from having regular cholesterol checks that includes the LDL particle size and number.