Low Carb Diets and Cholesterol Levels
Posted on January 14, 2017

low carb diets and cholesterol

Low Carb Diets and Cholesterol Levels – When High Fat Isn’t Bad

The following article is not intended to be part of the debate concerning cholesterol, or whether a low carb high fat diet such as the Atkins diet is good for long term health, it is simply to review the evidence with respect to the effect of low carb diets on cholesterol. One of the problems with the recommendation to reduce dietary fat is that it is often replaced by carbohydrate. For most people that have a dietary increase in carbohydrate there is associated elevation of triglyceride levels and a decrease in good cholesterol (HDL). Increase in triglycerides and decrease in good cholesterol is associated with carbohydrates, both associated with increased cardiovascular risk. Decreasing carbohydrate levels can lead to reduction in triglycerides and an increase in good cholesterol HDL, presumed a good thing.

 Calorie Reduced Diets – Low Carb vs. Low Fat

Interestingly, one of the premises behind a low carb diet is that although there is no strict limits to fat eaten, those on this kind of diet have appetite suppression that results in a reduction in calories as compared to a non carb-restricted diet. One study looked at the effect of calorie reduced diets in patients with elevated cholesterol. Over a 12-week period one group were given a low carb diet (12% carbs) and the other were given a low fat diet (56% carbs). The group that had low carb had a 3 time higher fat intake than the other group. The low carb group, despite the higher fat had improved cholesterol profile.

Low Carb vs. Low Fat – No Calorie Restriction

In another similar study, participants were randomly assigned to a low carb diet with no calorie restriction or a low fat diet with calorie restriction but no specific carb restriction. The patients in the low carb group were found to have a greater decrease in triglycerides and also and increase in good cholesterol. Another study looked at the effect of a very low carb diet (Atkins type) vs. a low fat diet in overweight men. Participants did one diet for 6 weeks, then the other for 6 weeks. Both diets reduced cholesterol. Neither diet affected good cholesterol. The low fat diet had a greater effect on ‘bad’ cholesterol, and the very low carb diet (like the Atkins diet) had a greater effect on triglycerides. Overall, in the limited study periods, the very low carb diet (such as Atkins) certainly appeared to have favorable effects on cholesterol profile, and was certainly not associated with any harmful effects. There are not enough studies on the very low carbohydrate diets such as Atkins to draw conclusions however.

Low fat diets vs. High Fat Diets

One study, looked at the effect of dietary fat on cholesterol in over 30 trials that were done to study this. It was found that low fat diets were slightly more effective in lowering levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol whereas the high fats diet were more effective at raising the good cholesterol. An ideal diet, according to conventional recommendation would decrease the bad cholesterol and increase the good cholesterol. The high fat diet however was clearly not associated with any bad effects on cholesterol in the studies reviewed.

 Low Carb Diets

Finally, a study looked at the results of 23 different studies examining the effect of a low carbohydrate diet on cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol in over a thousand overweight participants. The low carbohydrate diet was associated with decreased in triglyceride levels, and increase in good cholesterol. There was no real effect on bad cholesterol. But once again, there were no bad effects seen on the cholesterol profile.

 What To Make Of It All?

It would seem intuitive that lower carbohydrate and higher fat diets would worsen the cholesterol profile. The available evidence to the contrary suggests that low carb diets are associated with potentially improved cholesterol profile. Studies have limitations however which mean that conclusions should always be interpreted with caution. The main point here however seems to be that there were no harmful effects to cholesterol profile with a low carb higher fat diet. Most of the studies were short term, and no one really knows what the long term cardiovascular effects of Atkins type diets are.

Come join us today!
Low Carb Diets and Cholesterol Levels
Exercises To Help Knee Arthritis And Pain
How To Gain Muscle Fast – Without Drugs!
Science of Exercise: Basal Metabolic Rate

"I have been going to In Shape fitness and working out with David for a year now and the workouts have done an excellent job preparing me for my future with the Army ROTC at Auburn University. Before I started attending In Shape, I wasn’t completely sold this type of exercise would satisfy my needs. I knew I needed to be conditioning my body for the upcoming year but I wasn’t sure this was the type of workout for me. Boy was I wrong! Working out at In Shape Fitness has opened my eyes and is the perfect workout to help me prepare and sustain my Army ROTC training. The workouts incorporate many of the same calisthenics I use every morning during my workouts at Auburn. When entering the Army ROTC program at Auburn, I felt like I had an advantage because of the training I had completed before showing up at school in the fall."

-Elliott Oslund

To register for updates and have them delivered straight to your inbox, please join our email list