Good Fats vs Bad Fats: Keto and High Cholesterol
Going keto doesn't make you invincible. Well, not if you're filling up on saturated fats, it doesn't. Here's an at-a-glance guide to good fats vs bad fats. Learn how to use keto to lower your cholesterol by adopting a low-carb, low-cholesterol diet plan.
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb nutrition plan that claims to reverse and prevent all sorts of diseases. But is there a link between keto and high cholesterol? The short answer is yes. But just as there is good fat and bad fat, there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.
How Did We Get it So Wrong About Fat?
For the last six decades, fat has been linked to a catalog of diseases. More than science ever could, fat and all its benefits have been defamed by smart marketing and big business. If fat is the culprit that causes heart disease, as we’ve been taught, there’s no need to monitor things like sugar and salt intake, and simple starches.
The packaged food industry is big business, generating trillions of dollars in revenue each year, according to Forbes. It’s grown largely as a result of our belief that avoiding fat was the way to stay healthy. We steered clear of fat for years only to find that the instances of heart disease, stroke, neurodegenerative problems, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders has increased! There are more cases of people – young and old – getting sick now that we’ve collectively cut our fat consumption than there ever were before we converted to the standard western diet, which is high-carb, low-fat.
How did we get it so wrong? How is it better with keto? And high cholesterol is always a bad thing, right?
The problem is when we ditched fat back in the 1950s, no distinction was made between good fat and bad fats. There is a such thing as good fats. You know that right? Not all fats are bad and ketoers should know that not all fats are good. But fat is crucial.
Not All Fats are Created Equal
Fats are the compounds made up of carbon and hydrogen. There are generally two types of fats – saturated fat and unsaturated fat.
What makes one fat different from the other is the number of hydrogen atoms and how they are linked with carbon chains. A small difference in arrangement of the molecules can bring about a big change in its functionality.
So, let’s lead with the most pressing truth here: Not all fats are good fats, even (and especially) when you’re on a ketogenic diet.
Trans fats are produced by hydrogenation, a process where vegetable oil is heated in the presence of a metal catalyst. The process causes a chemical change that converts the healthy liquid oils into unhealthy saturated fats.
Trans fats now show up in the Nutrition Information section of your food labels. That’s a good thing. You may see it in the list of ingredients by the name “partially hydrogenated oil”. Sounds harmless enough, right? Go ahead and assume that most of the warm foods you get from your local fast food joint contain these partially hydrogenated oils.
Delicious Foods that are Also High in Trans Fats
- Vegetable shortening
- Store-bought cookies
- Pizza dough
- Fried foods
Trans fat is linked to several dangerous health conditions.
Cholesterol is a fat in the blood stream. It is carried around by lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins Low-Density Lipoproteins (which you may know as LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) and High-Density Lipoproteins (which is HDL, or “good” cholesterol).
LDL is the stuff that can cause heart disease by clogging your arteries with plague which restricts blood (and oxygen) flow and makes your heart have to work harder to get much-needed blood, nutrients, and oxygen distributed throughout the body. You may know this condition as high blood pressure.
HDL removes the excess bad cholesterol from blood stream. People with high LDL can suffer from severe heart disease, which includes myocardial infarction, angina, high blood pressure, and stroke. Trans fats creates inflammation and contribute to diseases like diabetes type 2 by inducing insulin resistance. Trans fats boost LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL in the blood.
Here’s the caveat – your brain need cholesterol. According to Dr. David Perlmutter, one-quarter of the cholesterol you eat will be used by your brain for functions like creating hormones, vitamin D production, and ensuring your membranes function optimally. Cholesterol helps improve cognitive function. Having too little cholesterol is associated with depression, neurdegenerative diseases and even death. So, keto and high cholesterol isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as your good cholesterol is what’s high.
Trans fat also has a negative impact on fertility in both men and women, according to the findings presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Annual meeting 2015.
The most common fats in the American diet are saturated fats. The word saturated literally refers to the saturation of hydrogen atoms clustering around carbon.
Delicious Foods that are Also High in Saturated Fats
Meats and baked goods are probably the source of most Westerners’ saturated fats. Fatty cuts of red meat, bacon, poultry with skin, butter, cheese, whole milk, and many commercially-prepared baked goods are all rich in saturated fats. Saturated fats solidify at room temperature.
If you’re thinking about coconut oil, you’re right. We get some saturated fats from the plant sources as well like coconut oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter.
They are solid at room temperature and although they are not criticized as much as trans fat, they can raise your LDL. For that reason, the American Heart Association suggests cutting your intake of saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of your total calories. This means if you eat 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat.
Is Keto and High Cholesterol a Given?
Okay, so if everything in your fridge is high in saturated fat, what are you supposed to even eat on keto?
Skinless poultry, low-fat dairy products, lean turkey are all good sources of protein, and they are healthier choices than pork bacon, eggs cooked in bacon grease, full-fat dairy, and regular ground beef. Keto and high cholesterol go hand-in-hand, but that’s not to say the high cholesterol should be your LDL.
Eggs are high in cholesterol. Just one egg contains more than 60% of your recommended daily allowance of cholesterol. So, you should eat them in moderation – not more than 2 a day. But if you like eggs, you should definitely eat them. Eggs are considered a superfood. They have a rich nutrient profile, and are probably one of the most perfectly complete proteins you can get so easily and affordably. Eggs are the perfect example of why ketoers cannot go on autopilot. For every bit of good an egg can do, adding just one or two more to your daily diet can cause problems that far outweigh the enormous benefits of eating eggs.
Saturated fat – regardless of its source – is linked with increased heart risk. So, it’s important for you to identify several healthy fat sources before you start a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet.
You probably know these as ‘polyunsaturated’ or ‘monounsaturated’ fats, and they are fats that are missing one (mono) or more (poly) hydrogen atoms from the carbon chains.
Eating unsaturated fats on keto can lower your bad cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of stroke and heart diseases. They provide essentials fats to your body. Essential fats are fats that your body can’t produce on its own, meaning you have to get them from the foods you eat.
Delicious Foods that are Also High in Unsaturated Fats
- Nuts and seeds (walnuts, flex seeds and sunflower seeds)
- Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel)
- Plant-based oils (peanut, sunflower, sesame)
People get cynical when a new theory comes out which contradicts commonly-held practices. So, we want to go on record as being in support of eating fats, as long as those fats are supporting you.
Fats are high in calories, with each gram of fat effectively delivering 9 calories. But we’re not nearly as concerned with the amount of fat you eat as we are with the quality of fat you eat.
Most ketoers are surprised to find that getting enough fat is much harder when carbs and junk food are off the menu. It gets to be even more of a challenge when you restrict your fats to essential fats and unsaturated fats.
Keto and high cholesterol aren’t synonymous, at least not in a bad way. When it comes to fats, focus on quality before quantity.