Cholesterol and Weight Loss
As a weight loss coach, I am often working with people who are looking at all areas of health from the body to the mind, cholesterol is often one of the issues that arise. If you look at any typical weight loss plan, one of the main ways to evaluate progress is through biological markers like cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol is often cited as one of the main risk factors for heart disease, and it’s often associated with obesity. Hence, many people looking to lose weight assume that reducing their cholesterol levels is the only way to meet their weight loss goals. Let’s look at this argument, why high cholesterol is becoming so common, and whether it’s really such a big problem.
The Effect of the Average British Diet
Fats, which lie at the top of the food pyramid, make up the smallest portion of what’s conventionally termed a ‘balanced diet.’ But not all fats are the same; the average British diet is loaded with trans fats thanks to foods such as baked goods and fried foods. These trans fats are a major reason for high cholesterol levels. Pair such a diet with low levels of physical activity, and it’s easy to understand why almost 6 out of 10 adults in England have high cholesterol.
Aside from cardiovascular problems, cholesterol and weight loss correlate with a higher risk of diabetes and a number of other health concerns. For most people looking to lose weight without completely changing their diet, a good place to start is to cut back on refined carbohydrates and trans fats.
At the same time, it’s important to use various factors to gauge how effectively you’re losing weight, instead of looking at your cholesterol levels. That’s because it can look very different for people on high-fat diets.
What About High-Fat Diets?
Considering how most modern diets are loaded with refined carbohydrates, and how modern diets correlate with rising obesity rates, people are looking towards other diets as a solution. Lifestyles like the keto diet work by eliminating highly processed foods from one’s diet and sticking to a single food group, like fats, as the primary source of energy.
Various studies show that keto diets are highly effective at promoting weight loss and suppressing appetite. The difference between the keto diet and other types of diets geared towards weight loss is that it encourages eating meals with a higher fat content. When fat becomes the body’s main source of energy, it starts using up the body’s fat reserves in a process called ketosis.
A major concern among people looking to try a keto diet to lose weight is that consuming more high-fat foods and slipping on unhealthy sugary drinks will ultimately cause their blood sugar levels to spike. Various studies do show that high-fat diets like the keto diet correlate with higher cholesterol levels. So isn’t that a bad thing?
To understand the relationship between cholesterol and weight loss, it’s important to understand that high cholesterol doesn’t affect everyone the same way.
Hyper-Responders and High LDL Levels
Before unraveling the relationship between high cholesterol levels and weight loss, it’s important to know the basics of cholesterol itself. When it comes to checking cholesterol levels, medical professionals usually refer to 3 things: your triglycerides, HDL (the “good” cholesterol), and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). You’ll find countless resources that differentiate between the good and bad kinds, and studies show that practicing a high-fat diet can lead to a sharp increase in blood LDL levels.
People who experience a dramatic increase, such as a 50 or 100 percent rise from pre-keto diet levels, are hyper-responders. Usually, their LDL cholesterol levels will be close to 170 mg/dl or more, while conventional medicine caps the appropriate amounts at 100 mg/dl.
High LDL: Good or Bad?
This brings us to the main question: is having high LDL cholesterol levels a good or bad thing? The truth is that there is no single answer. That’s because high LDL levels could stem from different causes. To have a better understanding, you’ll first have to assess your triglycerides and HDL levels as well.
According to conventional medicine and most high-fat diets, triglyceride levels should be around 150 mg/dl or less. As for HDL levels, people on low-carb diets expect somewhat HDL profiles of around 60 mg/dl or more.
So if your triglycerides are in the desired range, it shows that your body is using them as a source of energy. Understandably, when you first start the high-fat diet, your triglycerides will go up suddenly as well. But in the long term these levels go down as your body starts relying on them as the main source of energy.
And if your HDL levels are high, it shows that the body is metabolising triglycerides and taking any unused cholesterol back to the liver. Moreover, some nutritionists prefer looking at markers that indicate inflammation. If inflammation levels are low, it’s a good sign. So if your triglycerides are low and HDL is high, a higher LDL level shouldn’t be too concerning.
What LDL Cholesterol Does
With all this talk of LDL cholesterol, it’s only natural to wonder what it does in the body and whether it plays an effective role on a high-fat diet. LDLs, or low density lipoproteins, act as the body’s main carriers for cholesterol in the bloodstream. They distribute fat-based energy in the body, which becomes even more crucial on a keto diet.
Then When Does High LDL Become Dangerous?
It’s true that in many cases, high LDL levels are dangerous, but it’s accompanied by high triglycerides and low HDL levels. Research indicates that having healthy levels of HDL can help oppose the risk of developing atherosclerosis. It does so by alleviating inflammation, inhibiting LDL oxidation, and eliminating cholesterol from foam cells.
Without adequate HDL levels, immune system cells called macrophages ingest LDL particles entering arteries. Laden with LDL particles, the macrophages become foam cells that increase inflammation and speed up the development of atherosclerotic plaques. The plaques make arteries narrower, and if they rupture, they can block blood flow to the heart or brain, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
Conclusion for cholesterol and weight loss
As a biomarker that gives crucial insights about your health, cholesterol levels can be interpreted in different ways. While people on a high-fat diet may experience higher LDL levels, their lipid profiles indicate lower triglycerides and higher HDL levels, which reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Hence, they could see higher cholesterol levels despite losing weight. That being said, high cholesterol levels in a majority of people are due to poor diets laden with trans fats and refined carbohydrates. So people looking to lose weight without switching to a high-fat diet should eliminate such foods from their diet.