The zero carb diet significantly increases the amount of fat we eat and in turn often throws up the question of ‘What about cholesterol’? When I explained to friends and family I am eating a high fat diet, they always say something along the lines of ‘well keep an eye on your cholesterol…’
This topic is yet another area of health and nutrition that is full of myths and very much misunderstood. The zero carb diet has kept many people in great health for many years. This is because the misconception that cholesterol is bad is indeed wrong.
I thought I would do a short article here that explains some of the science around cholesterol and why do not need to be scared of it. Cholesterol is essential to our health and well being, we need it for hormone production which as we know is what keeps our bodies in balance. Let me state i am not an expert on this subject, i have just done some research and this is the information i have found. If you want to know more or get a better understanding then read ‘Cholesterol Clarity‘ by Jimmy Moore.
Over the years we have been told that cholesterol levels are a key indicator of heart health and the likelihood of us getting heart disease. We was also told about the two types of cholesterol, one being the ‘good’ guy and the other one being the ‘bad’ guy!
LDL cholesterol (low density) is the bad guy, and HDL cholesterol (high density) is the good guy so it makes sense the lower the LDL is the better and the higher the HDL the better. So doctors have worked hard at reducing the LDL as this in turn should reduce the risk of heart disease. This normally where they step in and advice you reduce the fat in your diet and if things still look bad, they will put you on statins to reduce your cholesterol. Getting those numbers down is big business for big pharma! One of the reasons why zero carb diets are not ‘researched’ as when it shows its better than medication at improving health, they lose money!
Here is where it gets a little bit sciencey… Cholesterol is basically fat and because of this does not dissolve in water so it can not mix with the blood and travel around on its own. The body uses something called lipoproteins that will transport all kinds of fats around the body, including cholesterol. It is these lipoproteins that react with our arterial walls and cause the production of plaque to form, this is called ‘Atherosclerosis’ and is not caused by cholesterol.
Your Blood Tests
A normal blood work will provide your doctor with what is called a ‘lipid panel’ and includes the total cholesterol which is made of the LDL, HDL and also Triglycerides. It’s the LDL that most doctors really give most weight to. However, the non-HDL cholesterol that can be a big factor in heart health, maybe more so than the LDL cholesterol. Looking at just the LDL can give a miss leading indication of health.
Obese people and people with metabolic syndrome quite often will have raised triglyceride levels, low HDL cholesterol levels and average LDL cholesterol levels. People in these situations also have other types of cholesterol – Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) and intermediate density lipoproteins (IDL). These will increase the risk of causing heart disease as it can increase atherosclerosis
There have been studies carried out exploring the role of different types of cholesterol and some have shown that the ratio between HDL and TG has a strong baring on the likelihood of coronary artery disease. Its been shown that a ratio between HDL and TG above 4 had the strongest correlation with coronary artery disease.
You can find comparative blood tests online of people on the zero carb diet. I will happily share mine with you in my blog once i am a good few months in, no later than a year i guess would be good.
The HDL and TG Ratio
To calculate your ratio you simply divide your triglyceride number by your HDL cholesterol number. Now depending on where you live you need to look at your figures differently. As here in the UK its measured in mmol/L as it is in most of Europe and Australia. However, over in the US it is measured in mg/dl meaing the values are different.
If you are in the US your measurements are in mg/dl this is what you should be looking at.
- TG/HDL-C ratio less than 2 is ideal
- TG/HDL-C ratio above 4 is too high
- TG/HDL-C ratio above 6 is much too high
If like us in the UK your results are in mmol/L then you will need to multiply the ratio by 0.4366 and this will give you the right figure for you. Or if you multiply your ratio by 2.3 you can use the same ratio used for mg/dl shown above.
If you are in the UK or elsewhere in Europe then your results will be in mmol/L and below are the ratios you need.
- TG/HDL-C ratio less than 0.87 is ideal
- TG/HDL-C ratio above 1.74 is too high
- TG/HDL-C ratio above 2.62 is much too high
Going forward in this article, I will use the US measurements (mg/dl) as the articles I have used for reference here us the US metrics.
Those of us with insulin resistance need to even more aware of our blood fat levels. When you are insulin resistant, the cells in your body do not respond to insulin as they should as they are ‘resistant’. This means your body will need to produce much more insulin to control the sugar in your blood, and so you have high levels of insulin in your blood stream. Those with insulin resistance or are obese and have metabolic syndrome will be at a higher risk of coronary heart disease. A study with mainly Caucasian, overweight people and had a HDL and TG ratio of 3 or greater was most likely insulin resistance. The zero carb diet will also improve insulin resistance, and as its zero carb you also reduce the amount of insulin in your blood stream.
How to Improve Your TG/HDL Cholesterol Ratio
To improve your ratio you will need to lower your TG numbers, raise your HDL cholesterol or both. Doing both is the best way to do this. Losing weight will most likely lover your TG numbers as well as reducing your sugar intake. This is one reason the zero carb diet works so well at correcting these ratios. Removing the carbs and losing weight both have significant benefits to your cholesterol and fat levels.
Cutting out the fat will not help lower your TG levels. Low fat diets are often high in carbohydrates and this has shown to raise TG levels even in healthy people who do not have extra weight. These same diets will also reduce your HDL cholesterol, so if you diet is hiking up your TG and lowering the HDL your ration is going to be raised to dangerous levels.
So now we have a better understanding of how cholesterol works and that the numbers alone mean very little we can rest assured that the zero carb diet with high amounts of saturated fat and its very low carbohydrates is indeed an incredibly healthy way to live. Eating high fat food on it own is not going to strangle your heart with fat and cholesterol.
Its not going to be easy to explain this to those that care about you, but you can rest assured you are making the right choices when it comes to your diet.