High cholesterol diet study finds carbs, not saturated fat, are key

If you have high cholesterol levels, you've likely been advised to reduce the amount of saturated fat that you eat. Such recommendations are common but controversial, with some past research having implicated sugars, not fats, as the primary reason some people have too much LDL 'bad' cholesterol. A new study builds upon those, implicating carbohydrates as the primary issue.

High levels of 'bad' LDL cholesterol can occur for many reasons, one of which is a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia — aka, high cholesterol that runs in the family. These individuals have largely been advised to reduce the number of saturated fats in their diet to help reduce their odds of developing heart disease, but that decades-old advice may not be helpful.

Researchers with the University of South Florida have published the results of a new study on diet and familial high cholesterol, reporting that they weren't able to find any evidence that cutting back on saturated fats will help reduce heart disease risk. The results call into question advice from the American Heart Association and other public health entities.

Generally speaking, people whose genetics cause them to develop high cholesterol are told to avoid eating things like coconut oil and various animal products, including eggs (or, at least, the yolks), meat, dairy, and cheese. The researchers say that instead, eating a low-carbohydrate diet like keto or paleo may be more beneficial.

Past research has implicated various refined foods and sugars in the development of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Eating a low-carb diet may not only reduce one's odds of having high cholesterol but also help reduce other risk factors that may contribute to it, including excess body fat.

Study lead author David Diamond explained:

For the past 80 years, people with familial hypercholesterolemia have been told to lower their cholesterol with a low saturated fat diet. Our study showed that a more 'heart healthy' diet is one low in sugar, not saturated fat.