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.
Total cholesterol is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, which includes HDL, LDL and triglycerides. However, total cholesterol is mainly made up of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Having high levels of low-density lipoprotein or LDL can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, increasing your likelihood for heart disease and stroke. LDL also raises your risk for a condition called peripheral artery disease, which can develop when plaque buildup narrows an artery supplying blood to the legs. The good news is that the higher your HDL level, the lower your body’s LDL level or “bad” cholesterol.
As if we needed another excuse to grab a second scoop of guac at the tailgate? Avocados are the poster child for the heart-healthy diet due to their rich abundance of monounsaturated fat, high fiber, and potassium. Monounsaturated fats from avocados, in particular, have been connected to an increase of HDL cholesterol and decreases of total cholesterol, LDL particles, and triglycerides, as shown in an Archives of Medical Research study. These can even be substituted for heart-harmful hydrogenated oils in baked goods as the fruit yields the same creamy texture and mouthfeel. Avocado brownies anyone?!
Do you dread opening up the white envelope of lab results after your annual physical only to discover a jumble of numbers, red ink, and arrows pointing every possible direction? Lipid or cholesterol panel results can be confusing to comprehend, and when numbers come back “out of range” it can only further fuel feelings of discouragement and helplessness.
Furthermore, in epidemiological studies involving over 100,000 individuals, people whose HDL cholesterol levels are below about 40 mg/dL had a substantially higher cardiac risk than those with higher HDL levels. This is the case even when LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) levels are low. Higher HDL levels have also been associated with a reduced risk of breast, colon and lung cancer.
Hayek T, Chajek-Shaul T, Walsh A, Agellon LB, Moulin P, Tall AR, Breslow JL. An interaction between the human cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) and apolipoprotein A-I genes in transgenic mice results in a profound CETP-mediated depression of high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. J Clin Invest. 1992 Aug;90(2):505–510. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Olive oil is a plant-based fat, so it's a better choice when you're trying to lower your "bad" cholesterol than fats that come from animals. It’s great mixed with red wine vinegar, a minced garlic clove, and a little ground pepper for a salad dressing. For something different, try braising vegetables like carrots or leeks. Just drizzle 3 tablespoons of oil over vegetables in a snug baking dish, scatter some herbs, cover with foil, and put in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes.
Flavor foods with herbs and spices whenever you can. It’ll help you cut back on condiments high in saturated fat while maximizing flavor. Spices and herbs also pack antioxidants, which can help improve cholesterol levels when combined with veggies. Ones we love: Basil, cilantro, rosemary, sage, ginger, garlic, tarragon, black and red chili pepper, mint, and oregano.
While the world of wellness endlessly touts of benefits of anti-inflammatory foods, who knew eating these could kill two birds with one stone by also improving your cholesterol? Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, the phytochemical that gives this berry its dark blue pigment and are essential to overall heart health through enhancing anti-inflammatory pathways as well as increasing HDL cholesterol levels, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. One 2013 study found that consuming blueberries in tandem with exercise can increase HDL levels even more than exercise alone.
Plasma HDL is a small, spherical, dense lipid-protein complex that is half lipid and half protein. The lipid component consists of phospholipids, free cholesterol, cholesteryl esters, and triglycerides. The protein component includes apo A-I (molecular weight, 28,000) and apo A-II (molecular weight, 17,000). Other minor, but important, proteins are apo E and apo C, including apo C-I, apo C-II, and apo C-III.
Altering your diet is the easiest way to lower your elevated LDL cholesterol, and should be your first course of action, as every cholesterol-lowering strategy starts with your dietary habits. A balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and various plants will significantly help you lower your LDL cholesterol level. It’s best to limit the amount of red meat, eggs, and dairy you consume. Plant-based diets not only help lower your LDL, but they can also help clear plaque buildup from your arteries.
Ground-breaking research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) studied nearly 9,000 European patients. All had previously suffered heart attacks. The trial found that those who reduced their LDL levels to an average 81 with high-dose statins significantly reduced their risk of major coronary events like heart attacks and strokes at the 4.8 year follow-up compared to patients who reduced their LDL to 104 on usual-dose statin therapy.
Nuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, so almonds, walnuts, or pistachios can help reduce your LDL levels. Try sprinkling them on your salad, or eat them right out of hand as a snack. Just be sure to choose the low-salt option, and keep it to about 1.5 ounces a day -- nuts are also high in calories. For almonds, that’s about 30 almonds or 1/3 cup.
Obesity results not only in increased LDL cholesterol but also in reduced HDL cholesterol. If you are overweight, reducing your weight should increase your HDL levels. This is especially important if your excess weight is stored in your abdominal area; your waist-to-hip ratio is particularly important in determining whether you ought to concentrate on weight loss.
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.
Beans and legumes of all kinds are known to be an asset to a heart-healthy diet pattern because they’re rich in a type of fiber—soluble fiber—which helps to block cholesterol from being absorbed through the intestines into the blood stream. By increasing your intake of beans, like chickpeas, you can decrease LDL levels, which results in a higher percentage of HDL cholesterol. You can blend chickpeas with garlic, tahini, and lemon juice to make the perfect homemade hummus, or mix them with peanut butter and dark chocolate to make a decadent, high protein, edible cookie dough! Blogger Chocolate Covered Kate has a great recipe.
HDL serves as a chemical shuttle that transports excess cholesterol from peripheral tissues to the liver. This pathway is called the RCT system. In this system, plasma HDL takes up cholesterol from the peripheral tissues, such as fibroblasts and macrophages. (A study by El Khoury et al indicated that in persons with HALP, macrophages have an increased plasma cholesterol efflux capacity.  ) This may occur by passive diffusion or may be mediated by the adenosine triphosphate (ATP)–binding cassette transporter 1. The latter interacts directly with free apo A-I, generating nascent, or so-called discoidal, HDL. Cholesterol undergoes esterification by lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT) to produce cholesteryl ester, which results in the production of the mature spherical HDL. Cholesterol is also taken up from triglyceride-rich lipoproteins in a process mediated by a phospholipid transfer protein (ie, CETP). [19, 20, 21, 22]
Niacin can be taken at lower doses rather than prescription levels, but supplementation can cause unwanted niacin side effects, especially when taking at high dosages. Some negative results of taking niacin include experience flushing, an uncomfortable feeling of heat, itching or tingling in the skin. Other side effects can include gastrointestinal, muscle and liver problems.
There's no magical food to keep your heart healthy, but there are a lot of foods that can help—including these foods that help lower your cholesterol. In addition to cutting back on foods that can raise total cholesterol and getting enough exercise, make sure to eat more of these foods that improve your cholesterol profile by raising "good" HDL and/or lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol. These foods include some old standbys, such as oatmeal and fruit, plus a few surprising foods that can help lower cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.