Fifty per cent cholesterol spike: Time to quit my low carb diet?


D’oh! My blood cholesterol level has soared by 50% in the past year. It came as a bit of a shock when I discovered this a few weeks ago. But I know what’s to blame: it’s the Homeric amounts of pork scratchings (and bacon, butter, ham, cheese, etc) I’ve been putting away as part of my low carb diet.

I suppose I really shouldn’t be shocked. I’m well aware of the warnings about eating too much saturated fat. But that’s what I’ve been doing for a lot of the time since I ditched carbs a couple of years ago. So does my spike in cholesterol mean it’s time to ditch my low carb diet?

Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t quite had my face buried in a nosebag filled with fried pork fat for the past couple of years, but I have been swapping some of my starchy carbs with cheese, meat and the odd bag of scratchings. The rest I’ve substituted with veg, mostly of the green variety.

I’ve upped the fat and cut the carbs for good reason: it helps me better control my blood sugar by allowing me to reduce the amount of insulin I need to inject in order to convert the food I eat into energy. And it seems to be working.

My most recent HbA1c reading (a measure of what my blood sugar levels have been for the previous three months) was 51 mmol/L, meaning I’m classified as having ‘good’ control by the NHS. My goal is to get it to 49 mmol/L or below, an indication of ‘excellent’ control.

But as I’ve focused on bringing my blood sugar under better control (for obvious reasons) I’ve neglected my blood cholesterol level. Now, with a total blood cholesterol level of 6.6 mmol/L (up from 4.4 a year ago), I’m told I have a bit too much fat swilling around my blood.

It’s easily done. One of the biggest difficulties with a low carb diet is the time it takes to prepare your food. Convenience food is generally high in carbs, but I’ve found I can munch the occasional lump of cheese or bag of scratchings on the go without my blood sugar spiking.

Trouble is, such foods are filled with the wrong kind of fat. Scratchings might be the food of the gods, but they’re pretty much pure saturated, of ‘bad’ (according to conventional wisdom anyhow; new research is starting to challenge this), fat. What’s more, they come in bags that contain three or four portions; it’s easy to overdo it.

Still, I’m not going to reintroduce the carbs, which inevitably cause blood sugar spikes and require higher insulin doses. Instead, I need to change the kind of fats I’m eating. I’m no expert (see my disclaimer below), but it seems much of the fat I’ve been munching prompts the liver to release ‘bad’ cholesterol (wrapped up in little nasties known as low density lipoproteins) into the blood. This gunk has a tendency to stick to your arterial walls.

That’s bad news, particularly for diabetics, who already have a heightened risk of heart disease and strokes. The good news is that by eating more ‘good’ fats – from foods such as avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds – I can improve my cholesterol level. Good fats prompt the release of cholesterol encased in high density lipoproteins into the bloodstream. This sticks to the bad cholesterol, which is then disposed off by the liver.

My mission now is to find convenient, low carb foods that contain the right kind of fat. I’ll be trying out a few new recipes on the blog over coming weeks. Got any suggestions? Please let me know!

Disclaimer: I have no medical training. I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, a physio or a sports therapist; I doubt they’d even give me job handing out oranges at half time of a football match. I am just a type-one diabetic and former fat bloke with a stupid idea. This blog is my account of following that idea to its conclusion. Do not attempt anything similar without seeking prior medical (and psychiatric) advice.

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