Keto and Cholesterol
It might be logical to think that a ketogenic
diet, which is high in fat, must be high in
But in fact, nothing could be further from
Plenty of modern scientific and nutritional
research shows that high-fat, low-carb diets
can optimize cholesterol levels and improve
your heart health.
To understand the relationship between a keto
diet and cholesterol, let’s first define
What exactly is cholesterol?
First we must understand that there are two
classifications of fats in the body: triglycerides
Triglycerides are fatty-acid molecules that
store energy for later use, and can be broken
down for energy.
Too many triglycerides in the blood can increase
risks of developing diabetes, cardiovascular
illnesses and other life-threatening diseases.
Cholesterol is a waxy lipid produced in the
liver that support functions in the body,
such as building hormones, maintaining the
integrity of cell membranes, and aiding in
the absorption of vitamins.
About 75% of cholesterol is produced inside
of your body and the remaining 25% of cholesterol
is typically consumed from animal protein.
When talking about cholesterol, you may hear
some common terms such as HDL and LDL.
It’s important to note that these are not
cholesterol molecules, but lipoproteins that
help transport cholesterol around the body.
Let’s go over some of these terms.
You may have heard HDL often referred to as
“the good cholesterol.”
HDL transports cholesterol around the body,
and collects and returns unused cholesterol
back to the liver to be recycled or destroyed.
That’s how HDL prevents other cholesterol
from accumulating and clogging arteries.
Some studies have shown that HDL cholesterol
may also have anti-inflammatory effects.
There needs to be more research done on HDL
cholesterol, but overall, there is consensus
among clinicians and scientists that HDL-cholesterol
is healthy for the body.
LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is frequently
known as “the bad cholesterol”, but is a little
bit more complex than that.
Unlike HDL, LDL molecules move slowly through
the bloodstream and are vulnerable to oxidizing
agents known as “free radicals.”
Once oxidized, LDL can easily burrow itself
into the walls of your arteries and impede
This triggers an inflammatory response in
which white blood cells called macrophages
rush to eat up the LDL, which can cause further
Many people consider higher levels of LDL
to be unhealthy, but the size and density
of these particles matter, too.
The cheapest and most common test for measuring
LDL is known as LDL-C, will measures the concentration
of cholesterol transported by LDL in the blood.
The second method is called LDL-P, which measures
the number of LDL particles in the blood.
Recent research shows that it is important
to know both the size and density of the LDL
particles, as larger LDL particles are considered
to be healthier for the body.
Where does keto fit in with all of this?
According to a recent meta-analysis published
in the British Journal of Nutrition, a study
was conducted between people on a low-carb
ketogenic diet and people on a low-fat diet.
After a year, the results were staggering:
The group on the keto diet showed double the
average increase in HDL compared with the
The authors concluded that carbohydrate-restricted
diets improve levels of HDL, and thusly, help
to boost cardiovascular health.
Other studies have been concluded on LDL,
showing that a low-carbohydrate diet has favorable
effects on LDL particle concentration, LDL
particle size, and quantity of VLDL particles.
In one of the more convincing meta-analysis
done, lauric and stearic acids, found in coconut
and animals fats, respectively, can favorably
affect HDL cholesterol levels.
Because these fats are so abundant in a keto
diet, total-to-HDL cholesterol ratios are
Studies have further shown an improvement
for blood sugar and triglyceride levels when
carbs are replaced with fat.
So, when you restrict carbohydrates and the
majority of your calories come from animal
fats, coconut oil and unsaturated fats, like
fish, nuts, avocado, and olive oil, it is
highly likely that you will improve your cholesterol
levels and lipid profile.
With all that said, cholesterol is a complex
and nuanced topic, so if you want more information
or a deeper dive into the source material
for some of these studies, be sure to read
through the article “The Ketogenic Diet
and Cholesterol” on Ruled.Me.