While you have probably heard that high saturated fat intake increases your cholesterol levels, you may be surprised to hear that your carb intake can also influence your cholesterol levels. Both the type of fat and carbs and the amount you eat influence your cholesterol levels.
Three cholesterol numbers are particularly important. These are your total cholesterol, your high-density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, and your low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol. To lower your risk for heart disease, your levels of total cholesterol and LDL, or bad cholesterol, should be low while your level of HDL, or good cholesterol, should be high.
Carbs versus Fat
Replacing the saturated fat you eat with carbs might not be such a good idea if you want to lower your heart disease risk. A high-carb diet may cause your HDL levels to decrease, according to a study published in "Nutrition Research" in February 2012. It may be better to replace saturated fat with omega-3 fats, according to a study published in "The Netherlands Journal of Medicine" in 2011. You should still limit total fat consumption to no more than 30 percent of your daily calories.
Type of Carbs
A diet consisting of 55 percent carbs and 30 percent fat, including 10 percent each of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat, helped lower both LDL and total cholesterol in subjects from a study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in May 2001. However, the carbs eaten by study participants were mainly complex carbs and not sugars. Diets high in sugars and simple carbs can increase triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood that increases heart disease risk. Eating carbs that are low on the glycemic index instead of those that are high on the glycemic index can also reduce your heart disease risk, according to a study published in the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" in April 2009. The glycemic index is a tool that estimates how much a food will increase your blood sugar levels. Most fruits and non-starchy vegetables are relatively low on the glycemic index, while potatoes, refined grains and candy tend to be higher on the glycemic index.
Unless you have a very high carb intake consisting of a lot of simple carbs, the carbs you eat aren't going to have a very large effect on your cholesterol levels. Being overweight, not exercising, smoking and eating a lot of foods high in saturated and trans fats are more likely to cause unhealthy cholesterol levels.
- Nutrition Research: High Carbohydrate Intake Was Inversely Associated With High-density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Among Korean Adults
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Dietary Carbohydrates and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in the Framingham Offspring Cohort
- The Netherlands Journal of Medicine: Saturated Fat, Carbohydrates and Cardiovascular Disease
- MayoClinic.com: High Cholesterol
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.