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Can low carbohydrate actually lower cholesterol?

Did you know that the human body makes between 70% and 80% of all cholesterol found in the body? Most of this is made in the liver. Given this, fat in our diet is not as bad as we have been told.

It is true that fat is the raw material from which the body makes cholesterol, and it is also true that if you add more fat to your diet your cholesterol will increase, but only if you continue to eat a lot of carbohydrate at the same time that you add the fat. This is because the body needs insulin in the blood to actually turn dietary fat into cholesterol!

What is insulin and how does it work?

Insulin is a hormone produced and secreted by the pancreas, a glandular organ situated behind the stomach. Its primary task is to regulate the level of sugar (glucose) as it travels through the bloodstream, however, it also performs a number of other functions.

Insulin, by activating or inhibiting various metabolic pathways can make us sleepy, hungry, dizzy, satisfied, can raise blood pressure, elevate cholesterol levels, make us store fat and cause the body to retain fluid. In appropriate amounts insulin keeps everything in balance, in excess it starts to wreak havoc on the individual.

The problem is that most of the food available today is loaded with highly processed carbohydrates, which quickly increase blood sugar levels causing the pancreas to secrete large amounts insulin. If you have eaten large amounts of fat with the high carbohydrate food, the insulin is now available to help turn that fat into cholesterol.

As insulin is required to run the cellular machinery that actually makes the cholesterol, if you reduce the amount of insulin being secreted by the pancreas, the liver cells cannot convert the fat being ingested into cholesterol. Given this, by reducing the levels of insulin in the body, you can actually limit the amount of cholesterol that the body produces. As there are no drugs that can reduce insulin levels, dietary measures (and exercise) are the only effective treatment.

As stated, insulin is secreted in response to heightened levels of glucose/sugar in the blood. This gives us an indirect control over the amount of insulin being secreted. By reducing the level of carbohydrate consumed - with its corresponding reduction in blood glucose levels - you can minimise the amount of insulin secreted and dramatically reduce the amount of cholesterol your body produces.

Of course, this does not mean that someone on a low carb diet should consume large amounts of fat. Indeed, most proponents of low carbing recommend choosing lower fat alternatives (especially lower saturated fats) where possible.

Unlike conventional diets which ban many of the high quality protein foods because of their fat content, low-carbers should use low fat products where appropriate, but use control of insulin levels to minimise the body's production of cholesterol.