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Carnivore Diet and Cholesterol: Everything You Should Know

Some people assume that the Carnivore diet can increase cholesterol levels because it only focuses on animal products and fat. But recent studies show it isn't necessarily true. You can control your Carnivore diet cholesterol by learning about HDL and LDL cholesterol types and adjusting your diet based on them.

Carnivore Diet and Cholesterol: Everything You Should Know
Highlights
  • The Carnivore diet doesn’t necessarily increase cholesterol, and if it happens, it’s temporary, slight, and can be managed and reduced.
  • Minimize the consumption of saturated fats found in foods like fatty beef and pork because excessive saturated fat can negatively impact your cholesterol level and heart health.
  • Moderating meat intake, choosing leaner cuts, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly can help you manage cholesterol levels.
  • Regularly monitor cholesterol levels and consult healthcare professionals to stay on track with your health and fitness goals.

Caution!

The information provided in this article is based on the recent academic research, but not a substitute for medical consultation by any means. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have any medical problems.

What Is the Carnivore Diet?

The Carnivore diet is a dietary approach to reducing inflammation, improving digestive health, and boosting weight loss by focusing on consuming high-fat and high-protein foods while excluding carbohydrates and sugar.

Minimizing the carbohydrate intake puts the body in a state called ketosis, during which the body burns fat for energy instead of carbs.

Ketosis can help your body boost energy levels, improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and promote weight loss.

To reach ketosis on the Carnivore diet, you need to consume animal-based foods high in fats and protein, including meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, and avoid carbohydrate-rich plant-based foods, like vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

But if we should consume fatty animal-based products, what happens to our cholesterol levels?

Does the Carnivore Diet Increase Cholesterol Levels?

A common misconception about the Carnivore diet is its impact on cholesterol levels. Many people believe that this diet can negatively affect cholesterol because of its high meat content.

However, a 2020 study showed that the effect of the Carnivore diet on LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) is more related to the amount of saturated fat consumed rather than the quantity of meat [1].

Also, saturated fat has been thought to raise LDL cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. However, recent studies suggest that there isn’t a direct link between saturated fat and the risk of heart disease [2] [3].

Moreover, LDL cholesterol levels may temporarily increase and then either decrease or stabilize over time. This pattern suggests that the Carnivore diet might not have as bad an impact on LDL cholesterol as many may assume [4].

It’s important to note that individuals react differently to dietary cholesterol. Some people are "cholesterol hyper-responders," i.e., are more sensitive to changes in dietary cholesterol.

They should consult a healthcare professional before starting the Carnivore diet to ensure that animal-based foods won’t negatively impact their cholesterol levels [5].

The most important point about cholesterol is that it isn't inherently bad; your body needs it for essential functions. However, we need to maintain the balance between LDL and HDL cholesterols.

What Are LDL and HDL Cholesterols?

Cholesterol plays a vital role in several bodily functions, such as producing vitamin D and substances that help digestion. There are two main types of cholesterol: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).

  • LDL cholesterol can help you maintain cardiovascular health and adjust hormones, but excessive amounts of it in the body can lead to arterial plaque buildup, which is a significant concern as it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Leaner cuts of meat like ribeye steak and organ meats like liver can be good for managing LDL levels [6].
  • HDL cholesterol’s role is transporting cholesterol from various parts of the body back to the liver. The liver processes and removes harmful components from the body. By doing this, HDL cholesterol helps reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, making it a beneficial component of your cholesterol profile. Certain fishes like salmon and animal products like eggs can be the best options for HDL cholesterol [7] [8].

Although many may think fats are the only foods affecting cholesterol, sugar can also significantly impact the HDL and LDL cholesterol levels.

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The Effects of Sugar on Cholesterol

Consuming high amounts of sugar, especially from sources like refined fructose or sucrose, can raise LDL and reduce HDL, causing heart issues and less effective performance by the liver [9].

Moreover, a 2017 research showed that higher sugar intake, particularly in children, can lead to a decrease in HDL cholesterol levels.

So, by following a Carnivore diet and minimizing or avoiding sugars, we can keep our HDL (good) cholesterol levels in a standard range. [10] [11].

While consuming high amounts of sugar can negatively impact cholesterol levels, consuming low levels of added dietary sugar has been found to have minimal effects on long-term LDL and HDL cholesterol levels.

So, moderation in sugar intake, rather than complete elimination, can be a good approach for those not following low-carb diets like Carnivore [12].

The effect of sugar or other foods on cholesterol levels is only manageable if you know the normal range of cholesterol, especially in the Carnivore diet. It will help you spot the changes in your cholesterol levels and modify your approach accordingly.

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What Is the Normal Range of Cholesterol in the Carnivore Diet?

Blood cholesterol levels can be influenced by many factors, like genetics, age, sex, and lifestyle choices like diet and exercise, but the normal cholesterol range for individuals over 18 years old is as follows:

  • Total cholesterol: 150-200 mg/dL
  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol: 70-120 mg/dL
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol: 40-60 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: 150 mg/dL or less

A 2023 study on the effects of Ketogenic diets on LDL cholesterol levels suggested that on the Carnivore diet, cholesterol levels may increase by 15-30 mg/dL within 3-12 months in some people, mainly because HDL (the good) cholesterol goes up. But this change is not common and may occur rarely as a reaction to the needs of the body [13].

Also, remember that the body's responses to diets can vary, and these numbers are general guidelines. So, it’s wise to have your cholesterol levels controlled by a healthcare professional [14] [15].

In addition to consulting a healthcare professional, there are tips we can follow to keep our bad cholesterol levels down.

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What to Do to Lower Cholesterol Levels on the Carnivore Diet?

If you’re experiencing high LDL cholesterol levels, these strategies can help you:

  • You can add 50-100 grams of carbohydrates per day to your diet. Although it does not align with the goal of minimizing carbs on the Carnivore diet, it can be an effective short-term solution when done for about 2 months or under specific conditions as advised by a healthcare provider or dietitian [16].
  • Physical activity plays a crucial role in cholesterol management. Engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of intense activity weekly, along with strength training exercises, can boost HDL and lower LDL.
  • Excess weight increases harmful fat, especially around the abdomen, and can raise LDL levels. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help you lose excess weight [17].
  • Alcohol consumption can raise triglyceride levels and increase LDL cholesterol levels. It’s wise to omit or limit alcohol from your diet [18].
  • Smoking is a risk factor for heart disease and can lower HDL cholesterol levels. Try to quit smoking for better cholesterol levels and cardiovascular health [19].
  • Chronic stress can also affect your cholesterol levels. Try to use stress management techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, and mindfulness [20].
  • To manage the Carnivore diet cholesterol levels, you should control the amount of meat you consume. Choosing leaner cuts of meat like skinless chicken breast, turkey, and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines can be the best options as they contain lower saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids [21].

But how much meat should we eat to meet the needs of the Carnivore diet yet avoid high cholesterol?

How Much Meat Should You Consume to Avoid High Cholesterol?

Managing Carnivore diet cholesterol depends on both the quantity and the type of meat you consume. Choosing the right meats in the right amounts based on your body's needs and dietary goals can help maintain steady cholesterol levels.

  • The National Council on Aging (NCOA) suggests that to maintain better heart health, you should limit the intake of high-saturated fat and cholesterol-rich foods like steak. NCOA recommends consuming small portions of such foods, around 3 ounces, no more than once a week [22].
  • Processed meats like salami, hot dogs, sausages, and bologna are also better to be limited or avoided as they are not only high in saturated fats but also in calories and sodium, which can adversely affect cholesterol levels and overall heart health.
  • Carnivore diet and cholesterol experts recommend consuming about 2-3 ounces of meat per meal. This provides you with a good amount of protein and healthy fats while minimizing the risk of high cholesterol levels [23].

The Carnivore diet focuses on high fat intake, which can have an impact on cholesterol levels if you use saturated fat. So, we need to know the types of fat and how they can affect the cholesterol level.

Types of Fat and Their Cholesterol Content

Fats are one of the most important parts of the Carnivore diet and cholesterol, and if you choose the wrong type of fat, you may fall behind your diet goals. There are 3 main types of fat [24] [25]:

  1. Unsaturated Fats: They are considered healthy fats and can have a positive effect on heart health and blood cholesterol levels by lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol and increasing "good" HDL cholesterol. Unsaturated fats are found in plant oils, nuts, seeds, and fish. 
  2. Trans Fats: These fats not only raise LDL cholesterol but also lower HDL cholesterol, so you should avoid them. They are often found in fried foods, baked goods, and processed snacks. Checking food labels and minimizing the consumption of trans fats is a crucial step in cholesterol management [26].
  3. Saturated Fats: Commonly found in some animal products like fatty cuts of beef and pork and plants like coconut and palm oils, saturated fats can increase LDL cholesterol levels, which is bad for heart health. It's recommended to limit the intake of saturated fats.

However, the Carnivore diet focuses on increasing the intake of dietary fat and protein to achieve ketosis and reach various health goals. So, how much is ideal to avoid cholesterol increase?

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How Much Fat Should You Consume to Avoid Cholesterol Increase?

Managing fat intake is crucial for controlling cholesterol levels and maintaining heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) provides specific guidelines on fat consumption to help avoid increases in cholesterol [27].

AHA recommends that for a standard 2,000-calorie diet, you should limit saturated fat to no more than 13 grams (or 120 calories) per day to maintain cholesterol levels within a healthy range [28].

Conclusion

To manage cholesterol effectively, you need to make smart choices in your diet and lifestyle. Buy pasture-raised meats and dairy for better quality, and choose lean cuts of meat over processed ones.

Regularly checking your cholesterol levels helps you stay on track. Remember to consult with healthcare professionals for personalized advice. Also, staying hydrated and limiting sugar intake are simple but effective steps for better cholesterol control.

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