Lately, a lot of people are turning to a ketogenic diet not only for weight-loss but also because of the many positive health benefits that it provides. How does that apply to people who worry about high cholesterol, though? Is the keto diet safe for someone with high cholesterol?
Yes, the keto diet is safe for someone with high cholesterol. Since a ketogenic diet includes a lot of fats, including saturated fats from meat and eggs, some people will see an increase in cholesterol, but these changes are actually positive.
There’s a whole lot more to know about the correlation between keto and cholesterol. Keep reading to learn more!
What Is Cholesterol?
In order to understand what a ketogenic diet does for your cholesterol, it’s important to understand exactly what cholesterol is.
Cholesterol is nothing more than lipids, otherwise known as fatty acids, that make their way through our bloodstream. When you think about cholesterol, you probably automatically think of it as a bad thing. In reality, there are many things in our bodies that require cholesterol to function. Some of the most critical include:
- Moving triglycerides and nutrients throughout the body and into the cells so they can be turned into an energy source.
- Aiding in the production of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
- Helping vitamins A, E, D, and K, along with other fat-soluble nutrients be absorbed into the body.
- Creating vital brain structures.
- Enhancing mental and cognitive functions. This is especially important when it comes to older adults as well as young, developing children.
When most people think of cholesterol, they automatically think of it as a bad thing. There are actually two types of cholesterol. There is bad cholesterol, which is called LDL cholesterol, and good cholesterol, known as HDL cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol s broken down into two categories, which are referred to as patterns. Pattern A is large particle LDL, and pattern B is small particle LDL. Even though LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol, small particle LDL is what you really want to look out for.
According to Southwest Family Medicine, small particle LDL is what increases your risk of developing heart disease because it oxidizes and builds up in your arteries in the form of plaque. Large particle HDL actually helps ward off oxidative stress by carrying more antioxidants and nutrients.
How Do I Lower My Cholesterol On Keto?
Believe it or not, just eating a ketogenic diet can be all you need to lower your bad cholesterol levels. There have been many studies done on this top, and they’ve found that keto can have a positive effect by:
- Managing your blood glucose levels and reducing your body’s resistance to insulin, especially in comparison to diets that are high in carbohydrates, according to this study performed at Kashan University of Medical Sciences and published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- Increasing the size of LDL particles, limiting the amount of pattern B, and reducing the risk of oxidative stress.
- Bringing on weight loss by limiting calorie intake as the result of being satiated, reducing obesity.
- Lowering the number of triglycerides in the blood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high levels are an indicator of a higher than average risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Increasing your good (HDL) cholesterol levels, balancing your HDL to LDL cholesterol ratios.
If you need additional evidence that a ketogenic diet is good for your cholesterol levels, an exciting study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This review came to the conclusion that a diet that is both high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates, such as keto, improved every marker of cardiovascular risk being studied. The study found:
- Lowered blood glucose from an elevated state
- Lowered insulin
- Lowered triglycerides
- Decreased concentrations of saturated fat
- Reduction of small LDL particles
- Reduction of glycated hemoglobin levels
- Lowered blood pressure
- Lowered body weight
- Increased HDL cholesterol
- Reversed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Why Is My Bad Cholesterol High On Keto?
Even though keto is typically good for lowering your bad cholesterol levels, there are still some things you can do to counter this effect. A ketogenic diet works differently for everyone. What one person can get away with can knock another out of ketosis and wreak havoc on cholesterol levels.
If a visit to your doctor has shown your LDL cholesterol levels have increased, try these four tips before giving up on keto completely.
Tip 1: Stop Drinking Coffee
Okay, I just heard you gasp as you read that. Before you freak out, let me explain. I’m not telling you to stop drinking all coffee. The coffee I’m referring to specifically is high-fat coffee, most often referred to in keto as bulletproof coffee.
Personally, I love bulletproof coffee. It keeps me feeling full and has so many benefits that people on keto can appreciate. With that said, everyone’s body reacts differently, so if you see a cholesterol spike, this should be the first place you look.
Since you’re adding things like butter, MCT oil, or coconut oil into your coffee, you’re getting a large amount of fat. This isn’t usually a problem, but if you’re drinking the bulletproof coffee because you’re not hungry but think you need to consume something, it could be messing with your LDL.
Switch over to regular coffee for a while and see if your cholesterol levels even out a bit.
Tip 2: Eat More Low-Carb Plant-Based Foods
There are some foods that have been found to lower LDL naturally. By consuming keto-friendly plant-based foods, you can significantly increase your chances of your bad cholesterol levels going down.
Some of the best options to reduce your bad cholesterol are:
- Nuts and seeds – Monosaturated fats and fiber-rich foods have been shown to lower cholesterol levels, according to a group of studies published in Archives of Internal Medicine.
- Avocados – As if you needed another excuse to whip up a batch of guacamole, studies from the Journal of Clinical Lipidology show that including avocados in your diet regularly goes a long way towards lowering your cholesterol.
- Dark chocolate – A randomized, double-masked trial published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that not only can including dark chocolate in your diet help lower bad cholesterol, it can also help prevent the bad cholesterol present from oxidizing.
- Cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens – You should be eating plenty of these on keto anyway. Still, I often see so many people focus on the meat and skimp on the vegetables. Some people even skip them entirely. These veggies connect themselves to the bile acids in your stomach and excrete them instead of allowing them to become absorbed inside your stomach.
Tip 3: Don’t Eat If You’re Not Hungry
I don’t know what causes this way of thinking, but many people think they need to stick to some type of eating schedule, or their metabolism is going to be knocked out of whack. If this is you’re way of thinking, it’s because it’s what we’ve been taught is the “healthy” thing to do.
The truth is, eating when you’re not actually hungry is a big reason there’s an obesity problem in the world. It also contributes to high cholesterol levels.
The fix to this one is easy. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. It’s okay to skip meals if you don’t want to eat. You may also consider intermittent fasting to see if that helps.
Tip 4: Avoid Saturated Fats
Eating a diet full of saturated fats could be the reason your bad cholesterol levels have risen. Simply replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats could be all you need to do to lower your levels.
Add these items to your diet:
- Salmon and other fatty fish
- Olive oil
Is Keto Safe If I Have High Cholesterol?
Even though there are so many studies showing that a ketogenic diet can help lower your blood pressure, you should still speak with your doctor to see what they think about you starting this new way of eating.
Some people shouldn’t start keto to lower cholesterol numbers. If you have high cholesterol levels that have been passed down by your family, keto may not do much to help you. Additionally, if you suffer from liver or kidney disease, keto may do more harm than good.
With that said, keto is safe for most people and if you aren’t dealing with any of the above conditions, feel free to give it a shot. If your doctor is one of those old-school types who are against any kind of diet other than the standard so-called healthy diet that hasn’t worked for many years, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion from another medical professional.
How To Help Keto Lower Your Cholesterol
If you already have high cholesterol, you may already know that there are medications that can help improve your levels. Let’s be honest; nobody wants to take medicine every day for the rest of their lives just to keep their cholesterol in check.
In addition to keto, there are some great lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your cholesterol. Here are some of the most helpful ones:
Limit Your Alcohol Intake
As surprising as it may sound, drinking alcoholic beverages at moderate levels have shown to increase your HDL cholesterol, according to Mayo Clinic. While this may be exciting news to if you already drink moderately, the benefits that come with it aren’t enough to encourage you to begin drinking if you aren’t already.
If you do consume alcohol, do so at moderate levels. If you are a healthy adult, moderate levels are:
- One drink per day for women, regardless of age
- One drink per day for men over 65
- Two drinks per day for men under 65
If you are drinking at more than moderate levels, you are at an increased risk for increased LDL cholesterol. You are also more likely to have high blood pressure, stroke, or heart disease.
Eat More Heart-Healthy Foods
Even though you’ve already made many adjustments to your diet when starting keto, you can make some more small changes to reduce your chances of high cholesterol. Focus on making these dietary changes:
- Whey protein – If you’re not getting enough dairy in your diet, you can supplement with whey protein. Not only does whey protein lower your overall cholesterol numbers, but it has also shown to have positive effects on your blood pressure. Make sure you’re choosing a low-carb option. I recommend Low Carb Protein by Isopure.
- Cut back on saturated fats – Saturated fats are a big part of keto for many people. After all, they are found in full-fat dairy products and red meat. Since saturated fats have many keto benefits, you don’t want to cut them out completely, but you may want to consider cutting back on them in you’re dealing with high cholesterol. Replace them with healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as:
- Salmon, tuna, trout, and mackerel
- Nitrate-free bacon
- Macadamia nuts
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Eat more soluble fiber – Increasing the amount of soluble fiber in your diet can help limit how much cholesterol your bloodstream can absorb. Some of the best soluble fiber sources include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Chia seeds
- Collard greens
- Pumpkin seeds
- Ditch the trans fat – Trans fats are terrible for raising your bad cholesterol, and before the Food and Drug Administration banned it, the biggest offender was partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Trans fats are still around and are most commonly added to pre-packaged food. If you’re eating a lot of packaged food instead of whole foods, you might be consuming a whole lot more trans fat than you realize.
- Add omega-3 fatty acids – Omega-3 fatty acids are great for reducing your blood pressure. The best whole food sources are:
- Chia seeds
- Rainbow trout
- Sea bass
Put Down The Cigarettes
If you’re a smoker, your cigarettes alone may be contributing to your unhealthy cholesterol levels. Not only will quitting help lower your cholesterol, but you’ll also experience these great benefits:
- Every time you smoke, your heart rate and blood pressure spikes, and it takes 20 minutes for your body to recover. This means that 20-minutes after you quit, your heart rate and blood pressure are already starting to get better.
- The damaged functions of your lungs and your blood circulation begin to get better around the three-month mark.
- If you manage to give up cigarettes for an entire year, you reduce your risk of developing heart disease by half.
Get Regular Exercise
Getting a moderate amount of exercise at least five times per week helps elevate your good cholesterol. Doctors recommend 30-minutes of physical activity on most days. Some of the best forms of exercise to improve cholesterol include yoga, walking, jogging, rowing, and biking.
High cholesterol is serious and something that should never be taken lightly. You should have good results when doing a ketogenic diet that is at least semi-clean. As always, speak to a medical professional if you require any additional advice.
Can I have coconut oil while on the keto diet? Yes, coconut oil is perfect for keto because it’s low in carbohydrates and has multiple health benefits.
What are the worst keto side effects? Some common short term keto side effects include keto flu, headaches, tiredness, and nausea.