Is Keto Healthy? Heart Health, Cholesterol, and Dietary Fat

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

Considering that heart disease is the number one killer in the United States and the world, it is surprising that it is rarely listed as a priority by patients.

Even those who are diagnosed with a heart condition usually compartmentalize it from their overall health - as if taking a pill is the only thing to do.

The functional medicine approach to heart health is about finding ways to support the overall health of the individual and removing any biochemical impediments to optimal function.

Often, these changes lead to increased longevity and getting off medication.

Despite a person's best efforts to stay informed, it is easy to be led astray by the latest health trends and nutritional marketing. Now, keto and paleo are king - and ample amounts of fat at every meal is encouraged - but is it always healthy?

an artists rendering of human anatomy. text overlay says heart health, cholesterol and dietary fat

The High Fat Diet Trend

There is a trend in nutritional medicine to push high amounts of fat on everyone, regardless of medical condition, genetics, or how they feel.

Much like the popular trends of a few decades ago that proclaimed 'all fat is bad,' ‘low fat is great,’ and ‘fat-free = weight loss’ - be wary of the health claims of those who are making lots of money selling you products related to diet.

The highest healthy level of fat intake will vary based on the individual - amending your diet with too much fat, even ‘healthy’ fat, can cause health problems.

a healthy chicken salad with pomegranate on the side

Other elements of high fat diets (like the elimination of processed foods and the emphasis on eating foods in their most natural form) will have a wide range of benefits in your body.

Healthy fats are fantastic and vital for good health - good quality olive oil (make sure not to use for high heat cooking), coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and nuts all provide essential building blocks for your body to utilize.

Rather than focusing on consuming a particular ‘superfood’ fat - focus on removing the ‘bad’ fats from your diet - poor quality red meat, trans fats, vegetable oils, and fried foods.

Ensure that you eat a sufficient amount of dietary fat - and, yes - carbohydrates to keep healthy. Too few carbohydrates can result in anxiety, depression, mood swings, blood sugar problems and a whole host of other problems.

Fried foods should be a relatively rare indulgence. When you fry foods at home, use organic coconut oil.

With a few exceptions, fried foods from fast food locations and restaurants should be avoided entirely as they use the lowest quality (cheapest) oil.

Excessive Fat & Liver Function

A high amount of fat eaten all of the time burdens the liver whose job it is to detoxify the body. Many people who consume too much dietary fat will start feeling ill, sluggish and start putting on excess weight.

The response to a high-fat diet like the Paleo diet or a ketogenic diet is highly variable and it based on someone's genetics, medical status, and the health of an individual's liver.

a man with an inflamed liver

If your liver is healthy and resilient, then you will be able to adopt a very high-fat diet for a while.

Many people feel great initially with one of these diets, but after about six weeks start having symptoms of fatigue, sluggishness, anxiety, sleeplessness, and a rebounding of previous symptoms.

Like any lifestyle change it is vital to listen to your body, if your body fails to thrive under a particular diet then it may need to be altered.

Excessive Fat & Heart Health

Too much fat is the primary cause of a liver problem, and an untreated liver problem is the most common cause of high blood pressure.

When you eat more dietary fat than your body can handle (‘good’ or ‘bad’ fat), your liver has trouble keeping up with its daily job of detoxifying.

The heart and liver have a very intimate relationship - when one is compromised it is especially hard for the other to function well. Too much fat from animal protein, oils, or other sources can, over time, impair the liver’s capacity to filter your blood.

An impaired liver can cause slightly ’thicker’ and ‘dirtier’ blood which can eventually lead to high blood pressure and a host of other cardiovascular and metabolic problems.