Low Carb-High Fat Diet: What Will it Do to My Cholesterol?
Feb 27, 2015 11:39PM
● By Christina Captain
Throughout time, fad diets have been a staple of the American weight loss industry. It seems that almost everyone is looking for the next magical way to lose weight and lower cholesterol. In response to that need, the marketplace has a new and improved fad or “medical theory” diet to sell to us every year. Some of the more dangerous fads use injectable hormones and severe calorie restriction as part of their plan for you to lose weight.
Fad diets do work (in the short term) because they cut calories. It makes no difference if it’s an anti-inflammatory, gluten free, low carb, liquid, fasting, paleo, no grain, high protein, high fat or a food-combining plan. All of these plans are low in calories and most require you to eat less processed food and more whole food. By cleaning up your diet you can make a difference immediately, especially in your cholesterol levels. However to avoid gaining all the weight back, (including your less than optimal cholesterol numbers) the key is to create a plan that you can continue as a life-long lifestyle change instead of a temporary fix.
Before we dive into the low carb-high fat diet pros and cons, I want to touch upon cholesterol levels in general. My opinion on the treatment of cholesterol is that cholesterol numbers are not how we should be diagnosing and treating people. Cholesterol is very complicated and should not be relegated to “you have this number, so you get this treatment” concept. Cholesterol levels need to be analyzed so that we can see the balance between the different types of fat. Suppressing cholesterol to its lowest levels is actually detrimental in most people, and should only be done in patients with history of heart disease. This is a great transition to how you can maintain a not only healthy but optimal cholesterol level with what you are eating.
The newest medical theory on the block was developed by a physician whom I truly respect, Dr. David Perlmutter. In his book “Grain Brain,” he espouses a world where no one should eat carbohydrates, including grains and most fruit. So that means no or limited rice, wheat, millet, quinoa, corn, potatoes and fruit. At the same time, he advocates eating a higher (naturally saturated and monounsaturated) fat diet. Huh? I was taught that fat was bad, it would make cholesterol higher and damage the cardiovascular system. How is it now that fat is good?
The theory behind “grain brain” is that grains, including sugar (which is actually a grass) can produce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is well known as the foundation of all disease. Dr. Perlmutter’s theory is that elevated cholesterol is not the problem we have been told it is, as the brain requires fat for fuel and depriving it of that good fat will set up an even more damaging situation. He states that grains actually do more harm to our brain functions than any of the natural saturated or monounsaturated fats could do to our heart.
The idea is this; we should be increasing our intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, as they are the part of fat that keep us healthy overall, fuel our brain and reduce inflammation. Likewise, we should be decreasing our intake of Omega 6 fatty acids. If we get too many Omega 6’s (the part of fat that increases inflammation), then we are becoming unhealthy. It comes back around to whole foods versus processed foods, as most of the grains/carbs found in the carb addict’s pantry are processed cookies, cakes, crackers and breads (omega 6 heavy) versus eggs with healthy saturated naturally occurring fat (omega 3-rich )which is a whole food.
Another helpful tip Dr. Perlmutter explains in his book is that most saturated fat comes from animal products (ie: beef, eggs and cheese/milk/butter), and the key to eating healthy, naturally occurring saturated fat is to use animals that have had omega 3-rich feed, like grass. So if a cow or hen eats grains (probably GMO, which is a topic for another time), the product (meat, eggs and cheese/milk/butter) is higher in omega 6 – more inflammatory. If the animal eat grass ie: free roaming or range free, the higher the omega 3’s. High omega 3 equals heart and brain health. The other way to get your healthy Omega 3’s is to eat foods that contain monounsaturated fat from avocado, nuts/nut butter, salmon and olives.
While there is much evidence that points to grain brain being a correct theory, there are many who say that we need grains in our diet. I, as always, am taking the middle way. I believe in balance and that eliminating an entire food group is unnecessary unless you have a specific disease process or condition that makes it a detriment to eat that food group. In that line of thinking, if you currently have diabetes type 2, metabolic disease or even just elevated cholesterol (another entire article on its own) it may be important for you to try a low carb high fat diet for about 90 days. It may be the answer you are looking for.
I do know for sure that eating monounsaturated and naturally occurring saturated foods will not be detrimental to your cholesterol; in fact it may create balance where there is chaos.