Can Low Carb Diets Increase Your Cholesterol Levels? Experts Weigh In
Low carb diets have been promoted as a way to lose weight and improve overall health for years. However, some people may be concerned that cutting out carbohydrates could increase their cholesterol levels. Here, we explore the science behind this theory and ask experts for their insights.
First, it’s important to understand the role of cholesterol in the body. Cholesterol is a type of fat that is produced by the liver and is also found in certain foods. It’s necessary for the body to function properly, but when levels become too high, it can be harmful. High cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are the body’s main source of energy. When we consume carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose, which is used by the body for fuel. Low carb diets restrict the intake of carbohydrates in favor of protein and fat.
So, can reducing carbohydrate intake through a low carb diet increase cholesterol levels? According to Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a nutritionist and author of “Sugar Shock,” “There is some evidence that low-carbohydrate diets may increase total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol), and triglycerides.”
Cassetty explains that the increase in cholesterol levels is typically temporary and can be seen in the first three months of starting a low-carbohydrate diet. After that, cholesterol levels often return to baseline or decrease. This is supported by a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, which found that after 12 months, there was no significant difference in cholesterol levels between a low-carbohydrate diet and a low-fat diet.
Additionally, some experts believe that the quality of fats consumed on a low carb diet plays a significant role in cholesterol levels. “Low-carbohydrate diets that are high in saturated fat and low in unsaturated fat can increase cholesterol levels,” says Jennifer McDaniel, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “On the other hand, low-carbohydrate diets that are low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fats can lower cholesterol levels.”
In general, a diet that is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in nuts, seeds, and fish, has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and increase HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) levels.
In summary, low carb diets may temporarily increase cholesterol levels, but this increase is often short-lived and may be influenced by the quality of fats consumed on the diet. It’s important to consider the individual’s overall health status, including their cholesterol levels, before starting any diet. Consulting with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider can help ensure an individual’s dietary needs are met while promoting optimal health.