Sugar and spice and everything nice… except for the fact that recent data has shown that added sugar is not so nice for our cardiovascular health or waistlines. In fact, a study published in Circulation found that people with the highest consumption of added sugars show significantly lower HDL levels. To cut back on your added sugar intake and increase HDL levels, consider replacing sugar with dates when you’re making baked goods like homemade granola bars, cookies, and cakes. It’s one way to slice total added sugars in half and will also give your sweet treat extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Fatty Fish Are Your Friends – Omega-3 fats present in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies give your heart major benefits, including a reduction in inflammation and increased functioning of the vital cells that line your arteries. Eating fatty fish or taking fish oil can also help increase your HDL cholesterol levels, so choose to dine on fish frequently to keep your heart healthy and happy!
8. Foods fortified with sterols and stanols. Sterols and stanols extracted from plants gum up the body's ability to absorb cholesterol from food. Companies are adding them to foods ranging from margarine and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate. They're also available as supplements. Getting 2 grams of plant sterols or stanols a day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%.
There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble (viscous) and insoluble. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of all high-fiber foods. Refined foods, like white bread, white pasta and enriched cereals are low in fiber. The refining process strips the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which reduces the amount of fiber that's left.
Paying close attention to what you eat can help you reduce your risk of developing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of arteries caused by plaque build-up inside the arteries. As the arteries narrow, blood can't flow properly through the arteries. Theis can lead to a heart attack or stroke. If the artery-clogging process has already begun, you may be able to slow it down by making changes in your lifestyle, including your diet.
While cholesterol is normally kept in balance, an unhealthy diet high in hydrogenated fats and refined carbohydrates can disrupt this delicate balance, leading to increased cholesterol levels. This imbalance is manifested in elevated LDL (bad cholesterol) and low HDL (good cholesterol), which increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. Other causes can include physical inactivity, diabetes, stress and hypothyroidism.
1. Oats. An easy first step to improving your cholesterol is having a bowl of oatmeal or cold oat-based cereal like Cheerios for breakfast. It gives you 1 to 2 grams of soluble fiber. Add a banana or some strawberries for another half-gram. Current nutrition guidelines recommend getting 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day, with at least 5 to 10 grams coming from soluble fiber. (The average American gets about half that amount.)
HDL particles are thought to scour excess cholesterol from the walls of the blood vessels, thus removing it from where it can contribute to atherosclerosis. The HDL carries this excess cholesterol to the liver, where it can be processed. So, high levels of HDL cholesterol imply that a lot of excess cholesterol is being removed from blood vessels. That seems like a good thing.
However, although low levels of HDL predict increased cardiovascular risk, particularly in healthy individuals with no history of cardiovascular events, the relationship between HDL and CHD risk is complex, with HDL-C and cardiovascular disease having a nonlinear relationship. For example, research found that HDL levels above approximately 60 mg/dL showed no further improvement in prognosis, and the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition)-Norfolk and IDEAL (Incremental Decrease in End Points through Aggressive Lipid Lowering) studies showed that very high levels of HDL may actually be associated with an increased risk of atherosclerotic disease. [5, 6, 2]

Grabbing a plum to snack on during the day is a sweet way to keep your cholesterol levels in check: The fruit contains anthocyanins — a.k.a. antioxidants — that help out your heart by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. According to one study, eating three or more servings of anthocyanin-rich fruit each week can lower your heart attack risk by 34 percent.

You've probably heard that fried foods of all kinds, hydrogenated oils, and full-fat dairy products are cholesterol bombs that are best avoided (and not just by those watching their cholesterol levels). The American Heart Association recommends that everyone restrict these foods, as they contain trans and saturated fats, the "bad" kind that raises LDL cholesterol and leads to plaque buildup in the arteries.
DAVID MONTGOMERY: The ways to reduce your bad cholesterol have a lot to do with your lifestyle. So your diet is really important. And although this kind of sounds trite, really one of the best and most effective ways to reduce cholesterol is by having a low fat diet, particularly saturated fat. We find saturated fat in eggs, dairy, and red meat. If you're able to reduce those, you reduce your bad fat, which reduces your bad cholesterol. Another really effective way that I use with my patients all the time to reduce your cholesterol is regular exercise. If you're doing aerobic type exercises, most days a week, four days a week, 30 minutes at a time, then you're doing your body the best amount of good, not just from lowering your cholesterol standpoint, but from so many different ways. There are other ways that we can reduce the fat. It may have to do with supplementations or medications. In some people, they are born with genetic conditions that predispose them to have very, very high cholesterol. And as a result of that, they have different problems like heart attacks or strokes. In those people, they really do benefit from cholesterol lowering drugs. But there are other things that you can get from over-the-counter, like omega fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids in particular. They come in krill oil or fish oil. We've all heard of these before. And those help reduce parts of your cholesterol.
HDL is actually more complex than we once thought. Rather than being a single kind of particle, HDL is is now considered a family of different particles. All HDL contains lipids (fats), cholesterol and proteins (called apolipoproteins), but some types of HDL are spherical while others are shaped like a doughnut. Some HDL types remove bad cholesterol from the blood while other types are indifferent to cholesterol. Or even worse, some HDL transfers cholesterol the wrong way (into LDL and cells) or protects LDL in a way that makes it more harmful to the arteries.

In humans, diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol raise HDL-cholesterol (HDL-C) levels. To explore the mechanism, we have devised a mouse model that mimics the human situation. In this model, HuAITg and control mice were studied on low fat (9% cal)-low cholesterol (57 mg/1,000 kcal) (chow) and high fat (41% cal)-high cholesterol (437 mg/1,000 kcal) (milk-fat based) diets. The mice responded to increased dietary fat by increasing both HDL-C and apo A-I levels, with a greater increase in HDL-C levels. This was compatible with an increase in HDL size observed by nondenaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. Turnover studies with doubly labeled HDL showed that dietary fat both increase the transport rate (TR) and decreased the fractional catabolic rate of HDL cholesterol ester (CE) and apo A-I, with the largest effect on HDL CE TR. The latter suggested that dietary fat increases reverse cholesterol transport through the HDL pathway, perhaps as an adaptation to the metabolic load of a high fat diet. The increase in apo A-I TR by dietary fat was confirmed by experiments showing increased apo A-I secretion from primary hepatocytes isolated from animals on the high fat diet. The increased apo A-I production was not associated with any increase in hepatic or intestinal apo A-I mRNA, suggesting that the mechanism of the dietary fat effect was posttranscriptional, involving either increased translatability of the apo A-I mRNA or less intracellular apo A-I degradation. The dietary fat-induced decrease in HDL CE and apo A-I fractional catabolic rate may have been caused by the increase in HDL particle size, as was suggested by our previous studies in humans. In summary, a mouse model has been developed and experiments performed to better understand the paradoxical HDL-raising effect of a high fat diet.
Plain and simple, exercise raises HDL levels. “We looked at doctors and others who ran the Boston Marathon,” notes Castelli. “While the average male HDL is 45, men who ran the marathon ranged around 55.” One Georgetown University study found increased HDL in those who ran seven miles a week or took part in four moderate 30-minute sessions of any aerobic activity.
A 2014 study published in the journal PLoS One found that a diet rich in foods including fish, especially fatty fish, increased the size of HDL particles, which may help improve cholesterol transport throughout the body. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week, especially varieties that contain omega-3 fats, such as salmon, trout, and herring. A serving is considered 3.5 ounces cooked.
Fish can be fatty or lean, but it’s still low in saturated fat. Eat at least 8 ounces of non-fried fish each week, which may be divided over two 3.5- to 4-ounce servings. Choose oily fish such as salmon, trout and herring, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Prepare fish baked, broiled, grilled or boiled rather than breaded and fried, and without added salt, saturated fat or trans fat. Non-fried fish and shellfish, such as shrimp, crab and lobster, are low in saturated fat and are a healthy alternative to many cuts of meat and poultry.

Not all oils are created equal when it comes to your heart health. Olive oil and soybean oil are mainly unsaturated fat, which can lower LDL cholesterol and at the same time increase HDL cholesterol. In a study published in July 2015 in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that including olive oil in the diet decreased LDL concentrations in healthy young men.
When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, the LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called “plaque.” As your blood vessels build up plaque over time, the insides of the vessels narrow. This narrowing blocks blood flow to and from your heart and other organs. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.
HDL particles are thought to scour excess cholesterol from the walls of the blood vessels, thus removing it from where it can contribute to atherosclerosis. The HDL carries this excess cholesterol to the liver, where it can be processed. So, high levels of HDL cholesterol imply that a lot of excess cholesterol is being removed from blood vessels. That seems like a good thing.
Paying close attention to what you eat can help you reduce your risk of developing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of arteries caused by plaque build-up inside the arteries. As the arteries narrow, blood can't flow properly through the arteries. Theis can lead to a heart attack or stroke. If the artery-clogging process has already begun, you may be able to slow it down by making changes in your lifestyle, including your diet.
First, a quick explainer: Cholesterol is a waxy substance that travels through your bloodstream, but not all of it is bad. HDL cholesterol (a.k.a. "good" cholesterol) actually sweeps away LDL cholesterol, or the "bad" kind. A high LDL level puts you at risk for heart attacks and strokes because it can clog arteries with plaque, a condition called atherosclerosis. A blood test can determine whether you have high cholesterol, and your doctor may recommend exercise or medication in addition to a healthier diet.
As a result of all this, doctors don’t just want you to lower your total cholesterol count; they want you to change the ratio as well, so you have more HDL and less LDL. “When we looked at the data, we found that the higher your HDL went, the lower your risk of heart attack,” says cardiologist William Castelli, M.D., former director of the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts. An HDL level of 75 or more seems to convey extra longevity for many people, while a count of 100 or more is so beneficial that it was dubbed the “Methuselah syndrome” by one researcher. HDL less than 35 or so, meanwhile, can carry significant risk of heart disease. Genetics plays a large role in HDL. A few guys have naturally low levels and need to keep their LDL low as well to make up for it. (As Castelli puts it, you don’t need a substance that removes cholesterol from your blood if you don’t have much to begin with.) But there’s plenty that everyone else can do to pump up their HDL. Never one to shirk from a task that doesn’t involve housecleaning, I managed to find two handfuls of ways to turn my “good” numbers into great numbers.
Oatmeal is one of the best cholesterol-fighting foods because it is so high in beta-glucans, the soluble fibers that cause oats to bulk up in liquid when you make oatmeal. Soluble fiber lowers your LDL, or "bad," cholesterol by forming a sticky layer in the small intestine that blocks cholesterol from entering your bloodstream. Make oatmeal and skip the instant packs with lots of added sugar. (In a rush? See our picks for best instant oatmeals.) Add fruit to your oatmeal to naturally sweeten it and boost the soluble fiber content even more.

HDL cholesterol carries excess cholesterol to your liver so it doesn’t build up in your bloodstream. But when LDL cholesterol moves cholesterol throughout your body, it can build up in the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow. If you have too little HDL cholesterol and too much LDL, you may be diagnosed with high cholesterol, a condition that can lead to atherosclerosis, angina (often experienced as chest pain), heart attack, and stroke.

Once you control your protein and starch portions, you can fill the rest of your plate with heart-healthy fruits and vegetables. Aim for four to five servings of vegetables and four to five servings of fruits every day. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals and are great sources of fiber, which helps fill you up, control your weight, and improve cholesterol levels.


There is considerable controversy over whether high cholesterol is in itself a cause of heart disease (the lipid hypothesis), or a symptom of an inflammatory condition that is the true cause of heart disease (the inflammation hypothesis). According to the latter theory, chronically high levels of inflammation creates small lesions on arterial walls; the body sends LDL to heal those lesions, but it ultimately accumulates and oxidizes, causing blockages. From this perspective, the best lifestyle approach to lower cardiovascular disease risk is to lower inflammation in the body rather than LDL levels.
HDL is actually more complex than we once thought. Rather than being a single kind of particle, HDL is is now considered a family of different particles. All HDL contains lipids (fats), cholesterol and proteins (called apolipoproteins), but some types of HDL are spherical while others are shaped like a doughnut. Some HDL types remove bad cholesterol from the blood while other types are indifferent to cholesterol. Or even worse, some HDL transfers cholesterol the wrong way (into LDL and cells) or protects LDL in a way that makes it more harmful to the arteries.
Trans fatty acids are likely present in many of your favorite prepared foods— anything in which the nutrition label reads "partially hydrogenated vegetable oils" — so eliminating them from the diet is not a trivial task. But trans fatty acids not only increase LDL cholesterol levels, but they also reduce HDL cholesterol levels. Removing them from your diet will almost certainly result in a measurable increase in HDL levels. 
Plant stanols and sterols (such as beta-sitosterol and sitostanol) are naturally-occurring substances found in certain plants. Stanols are also found as dietary supplements or are added to margarine, orange juice, and dressings. Research suggests that plant stanols and sterols may help to lower cholesterol. They are similar in structure to cholesterol and may help block the absorption of cholesterol from the intestines.

Kimchi, a Korean fermented side dish commonly made from cabbage, radish or cucumber, is quickly gaining a following for its many health benefits. Kimchi is high in fiber and—because it's fermented—is loaded with good bacteria that help keep your gut healthy. Kimchi contains bioactive compounds that lower cholesterol by blocking cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. The good bacteria produced during fermentation also help lower cholesterol. Kimchi and sauerkraut are usually pretty high in sodium, so watch your portions if you're watching your salt intake.
HDL cholesterol carries excess cholesterol to your liver so it doesn’t build up in your bloodstream. But when LDL cholesterol moves cholesterol throughout your body, it can build up in the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow. If you have too little HDL cholesterol and too much LDL, you may be diagnosed with high cholesterol, a condition that can lead to atherosclerosis, angina (often experienced as chest pain), heart attack, and stroke.

George T Griffing, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, American College of Medical Practice Executives, American Association for Physician Leadership, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, American Heart Association, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Endocrine Society
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