I would like to think that most people are, at least, aware that there are two very different kinds of cholesterol – High Density Lipoprotein and Low Density Lipoprotien, commonly referred to as HDL and LDL. Just in case you aren’t aware of how exactly they work, I’ll give you a brief lowdown.
HDL Cholesterol – The Good Guy
HDL cholesterol is our body’s own little clean up crew. The higher our HDL level is, the lower our LDL level is. This is because our HDL transports cholesterol that has been stored in our arteries to our liver, which then processes it and dispenses it from our body.
LDL Cholesterol – The Bad Guy
Whereas HDL cholesterol is extremely beneficial, LDL cholesterol is not. This guy is the one that spreads cholesterol throughout our arteries and, unfortunately, leaves it there to build up into plaque. LDL cholesterol is frequently the underlying cause for chest pains, heart attacks, and strokes.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that, in order to keep the LDL cholesterol levels low, people eat a low sodium diet – full of fruits, veggies, and whole grains – while limiting their intake of animal fats and moderating their consumption of good fats. If you’re anything like me, red flags just popped up all over the keto lifestyle, which lacks fruit and whole grains and promotes the consumption of fat and/or protein.
The Good News
The good news is that there is literally so much research that demonstrates that living a keto lifestyle is actually extremely beneficial, especially in regards to keeping your HDL high and LDL low. To verify this information, I read through three academic journal articles that reflected on findings of three different studies, where obese individuals entered into a monitored ketogenic diet program.
This article reflects on a study that actually compared the results of a low-carb, ketogenic diet versus the results of a low fat diet. In order to participate in this controlled trial study, individuals had to be between the ages of 18 and 65 years with a body mass index (BMI) between above 30 kg/m2 – yet under 60 kg/m2 – and, finally, a desire to lose weight. Using a computer-generated randomization program, individuals were assigned to either the low carb or low fat diet.
The ketogenic eaters were allowed to consume unlimited amounts of animal foods – meat, fish, and shellfish – and two cups of salad veggies, one cup of low-carb veggies, as well as four ounces of hard cheese. On the other hand, low-fat dieters were instructed by a registered dietitian to have a diet that consisted of “less than 30% of daily energy intake from fat, less than 10% of daily energy intake from saturated fat, and less than 300 mg of cholesterol daily.” (Yancy, William S., et al., 2004)
In the end, over 75% of the individuals participating in the low-carb (ketogenic) diet completed the entire 24 week study, where only 57% percent of those in the low-fat program lasted through the end. Stunningly, these ketogenic dieters had greater weight loss, reduction in triglyceride levels (which works with LDL cholesterol to cause strokes and heart attacks), and a notable increase in HDL cholesterol.
What does all this mean, though? Well, this first study indicates the following:
- The ketogenic lifestyle is less difficult to stick with than the low-fat lifestyle.
- Ketogenic eating actually increases the level of good cholesterol in our bodies.
- The low-carb, ketogenic eating plan is a lot less confusing that the low-fat alternative (seriously, I can’t even understand the requirements they had to meet).
The next scholarly article I reviewed was in regards to the results of a study that looked at the long term effects of the ketogenic diet on obese participants with high cholesterol levels. In this diet, 66 individuals followed an eating plan that consisted of the following:
- Less than 20 g of carbohydrates in the form of green vegetables and salad
- 80–100 g of proteins in the form of meat – fish, fowl, eggs, shellfish and cheese.
- Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (5 tablespoons olive oil) were included in the diet. (Dashti, Hussein M., et al., 2006)
In this study, there was a 74% completion rate for the 56 week study. After the first week, the levels of the participants HDL cholesterol increased and the level of the LDL cholesterol – and the level of its helper, triglycerides – significantly decreased. Not only that, but their blood sugar levels also dropped!
What we can see by looking at the results of the first two studies is:
- The low-carb ketogenic diet has a three-out-of-four success rate!
- The eating plans aren’t only simple, but they sound pretty delicious.
- The lifestyle raises the good cholesterol, decreases the bad, and even lowers blood sugar levels.
The final study I reviewed was focused on the long-term effects of ketogenic eating on obese individuals. In this case, the 83 participants were required to begin the program with a BMI greater than 35 kg/m2, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.
Again, the participants were presented with a fairly simple eating plan that consisted of 20 – 30 grams of carbs from green veggies and salads, 80 – 100 grams of protein from animal foods and cheese, and polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats. They were then monitored at eight weeks, 16 weeks, and, finally, 24 weeks. (Dashti, Hussein M, et al., 2004) During each “check-up”, the following was reflected:
- A decrease in LDL Cholesterol, which continuously dropped in levels.
- An uninterrupted decrease in triglycerides.
- A steady increase of HDL Cholesterol.
- A steady decrease of blood sugar levels.
One thing I particularly liked about this study is that it discusses other benefits of the ketogenic lifestyle, including it’s ability to be a mood stabilizer for bi-polar disorders and depression. Furthermore, it helps prevent osteoporosis and chronic diseases that result from high sugar intake. Finally, there are less – or no – side effects for obese individuals who utilize the ketogenic lifestyle to lose weight, unlike many quick-fix weight loss drugs that are on the market today.
What This Means
So, here we sit. I’ve just gave you the low down on three different studies that were conducted on three different groups of people by three different sets of Doctors. All of these studies present data that goes directly against what has been believed for decades by the general population. Not only can a low-carb diet that is high in unsaturated fats help people lose weight, but it can also decrease LDL cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and triglycerides all the while increasing HDL cholesterol – also known as the good cholesterol. Additionally, unlike the fad low-fat diets and weight loss supplements flashing across our television and computer screens regularly, there are minimal negative side effects.
Not only can a low-carb diet that is high in unsaturated fats help people lose weight, but it can also decrease LDL cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and triglycerides all the while increasing HDL cholesterol – also known as the good cholesterol.
I’m not a doctor, but I think that the conclusion is obvious: the ketogenic lifestyle is not only easier to maintain, but more likely to beneficial to your health and well-being than the alternatives.
- Dashti, Hussein M, et al. “Long-Term Effects of a Ketogenic Diet in Obese Patients.” Experimental & Clinical Cardiology, Pulsus Group Inc, 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2716748/.
- Dashti, Hussein M., et al. “Long Term Effects of Ketogenic Diet in Obese Subjects with High Cholesterol Level.” Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, vol. 286, 2006, pp. 1–9., doi:10.1007/s11010-005-9001-x.
- Yancy, William S., et al. “A Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet versus a Low-Fat Diet To Treat Obesity and Hyperlipidemia: A Randomized, Controlled Trial.” Annals of Internal Medicine, American College of Physicians, 18 May 2004, annals.org/aim/fullarticle/717451/low-carbohydrate-ketogenic-diet-versus-low-fat-diet-treat-obesity.