You’re going to want to read this article. By the end of it you will know that:
- Dietary cholesterol is good for building muscle
- A high fat, low carb diet will not increase your risk of heart-disease
You’ll also be able to silence the low carb critics who use heart health as a type of weapon with which to beat the diet down.
Something else is responsible for increased heart-risk factors. Can you guess what it is yet?
Dietary cholesterol is good for building muscle. I’ve already blogged about a study that showed this association in a previous article.
Cholesterol is also a precursor to the anabolic hormone testosterone. It is found in high-fat foods such as eggs, butter and red meat which promote maximum serum levels of the 3 muscle-building hormones:
- Growth Hormone
As you know, this is central to the MANS bodybuilding diet. A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is therefore not desirable for the natural bodybuilder.
OK, I might make maximal muscle gains with this approach, but won’t I mortgage my health in the process? Won’t I increase my risk of heart-disease?
The simple answer is ‘NO’. I’ve already covered the saturated fat-cholesterol-heart disease myth previously.
BUT WAIT! If it’s not a high fat diet that causes rise in LDL to HDL cholesterol ratio, what the hell does?
First, let’s make it clear that cholesterol is not some unwelcome guest in the bloodstream. Cholesterol is an essential component of cell membranes; it is also needed for brain function, and carries antioxidant vitamins to the body’s tissues.
It’s presence in the blood is a good thing. Too much of it, or more specifically, too much LDL in relation to HDL cholesterol may increase your risk of heart-disease (though even this is disputed).
We have established that cholesterol is needed by our cells, so how do our cells get this much-needed waxy substance? 2 ways; they either:
- Grab it from circulating lipoproteins in the blood (Low Density or High Density Lipoproteins is where the terms LDL and HDL come from).
- Manufacture it themselves
Bear in mind that dietary cholesterol can only contribute up to an absolute MAXIMUM of 20% towards serum cholesterol and oftentimes has no impact at all in people.
Now, if the cells are grabbing it from the blood, this leads to lower serum cholesterol. And since they take in predominantly the LDL kind, this leads to a healthy LDL/HDL profile.
However, if the cells are making their own cholesterol, LDL particles are still circulating in the blood and can build up over time.
So it follows that what we want is the cells to use circulating cholesterol and NOT make their own. In order to do this we must find out what regulates this process.
Cellular Cholesterol production is regulated by……
Insulin and glucagon.
When we have lower insulin and higher glucagon levels, we have low cholesterol manufacture and more serum cholesterol being used – happy days 🙂
This is because insulin triggers the enzyme that causes your cells to produce its own cholesterol whereas glucagon inhibits this same enzyme.
When we have chronically high insulin levels we have low glucagon levels and more cholesterol manufacture. Consequently we will have less serum cholesterol leaving the bloodstream.
So, what kind of diet produces low, steady levels of insulin and higher glucagon levels? Why a low carb one of course. 😉
After each study that vindicates low-carb as healthy, and in fact, healthier than a low-fat one, (in relation to lipid profile and other health markers) headlines usually read…
“Shock! High-fat Atkins diet best for heath!”
…or something to that effect. Where’s the mystery in all of this? There’s no magic going on. It’s a simple case of eating what our bodies are programmed to eat. Heart disease, like many others, is a disease of civilization caused not by traditional, natural foods but by our modern-day obsession with carbohydrates.
Here’s one shocked vegetarian lecturer admitting that it was hard for him to accept the fact that the Atkins group not only lost most weight but improved every single health marker by more than all the other groups (Watch 53.30 to 54.30 of the video at the bottom of the post).
Hopefully you’ve learned something here and will have an answer for your critics who tell you about the danger of all those eggs you’re eating.
The purpose of this article is to put the low carb dieter and/or muscle hacker’s mind at ease with regards to saturated fat and cholesterol consumption. It is therefore not an exhaustive treatise on the subject and doesn’t include all viewpoints for the sake of brevity. Quickly here are some other perspectives…
(1) There is also the possibility of genetic factors coming into play and making it very difficult for someone to reduce their LDL cholesterol no matter what diet they go on.
(2) There is also the viewpoint that cholesterol isn’t a bad guy at all and is taking the blame for something it isn’t responsible for. The following from the Weston Price website sums it up…
“Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease but rather a potent antioxidant weapon against free radicals in the blood, and a repair substance that helps heal arterial damage … Just as a large police force is needed in a locality where crime occurs frequently, so cholesterol is needed in a poorly nourished body to protect the individual from a tendency to heart disease and cancer. Blaming coronary heart disease on cholesterol is like blaming the police for murder and theft in a high crime area.”
This would explain a correlation between serum cholesterol and heart-disease but would definitely NOT suggest a causal link.
(3) A belief that is becoming more and more common states that it is only the small, dense LDL particles that pose any health risk. The large, fluffy LDL particles may therefore be beneficial. A high LDL number may not be something to be concerned about then.
The take-home message is: Enjoy your REAL, natural food without guilt.
image credit: rebranca46
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Great article, Mark!
I had no idea about the insulin connection, keep them coming. B
An excelent article.
Keep it up.
Wow! Great post Mark. This totally makes sense for me now as I was usually worried about my cholesterol, but not anymore!
Thanks guys. Glad I could help.
Thanks for that Mark. Hadn’t really read info of the role of insulin in the production of cholesterol by the cells before.
This explains a lot! Let me see if I got it:
1. Too much sugar promotes too much insulin, which makes you store that excess sugar and you get fat.
2. It also makes the cells produce cholesterol and you get too much of it in your blood (cause the cells don’t absorb it) thus causing clogging.
Just figured out that I’m really only relying on your posts for information about the health of all this… I do hope you’re right 🙂
There’s a little typo in the very last paragraph: the first LDL in conclusion (3) should be HDL (or the others should be, in which case I’m still confused about the LDL/HDL thing).
Great stuff as always Mark.
But I have a question: if I do not strictly follow MANS and get 90-100 grams of carbs per day(some days being lower), will eating a lot of almonds – eggs and salmon get me storing fat or raising bad cholesterol levels?
This is even more important to me, since I wont be able to train for a month. Should I change something?
@ Yavor. That’s a good summary. Basically, the Eades’ and Taubes’ etc. of this world are saying that the fundamental assumption (from the 1950’s) is completely wrong. It’s carbs, especially refined carbs, and in turn chronically high insulin that is central to modern diseases – heart disease, obesity, diabetes…and I agree!
@ Daan, do your own research to put your mind at ease. Look for studies and such to back up claims though. By the way, if you find a comparative study that shows adverse changes in lipid profile from a low carb, high fat diet in relation to a high carb, low fat one – let me know 😉 . Point 3 – the are small and large particles of LDL. It is stating that it may be the case that only the small ones may cause problems and that total LDL count may therefore be misleading.
@ G. (1) You shouldn’t be having a big carb-up in this case.
(2) Those carbs should be unrefined
(3) You include a good dose of fish oil (you already eat salmon), cold pressed olive oil, almonds… in addition to your natural saturated fat.
Assuming the above 3, you won’t get into fat storage or elevated ‘bad’ cholesterol. Do be aware of total calorie intake at this level of carbs, though you don’t need to get anal about getting it down to the last 10 calories.
P.S. Almonds can lower LDL cholesterol, here’s a study
Hi Mark , good to see you keeping up the hard work. Still following your site. You may remember last year I gave the the whole MANS diet and training a go for around three months and unfortunately had an unexpected and horrifying result with a cholesterol test at the end of my trial.(9.3)! Just as an update I stuck to the advised NHS recommendations in a hardcore way and after three months its back down to my old not so bad level of 6.2. I post this comment as I feel people should know and at least test themselves before starting the MANS diet and sometime after etc. Will post via the forum for a wider audience and opinion. Thanks