Many people don't like to hear it, but regular aerobic exercise (any exercise, such as walking, jogging or bike riding, that raises your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes at a time) may be the most effective way to increase HDL levels. Recent evidence suggests that the duration of exercise, rather than the intensity, is the more important factor in raising HDL cholesterol. But any aerobic exercise helps.
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.
Black beans, kidney beans, lentils, oh my! All are rich in soluble fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the blood and moves it out of the body. Recent studies show eating 4.5 ounces of beans a day can reduce LDL levels by 5 percent. Try black bean burritos, or dip some veggies in hummus, which is made with chickpeas, for an afternoon snack. Or try this Caramelized Onion and White Bean Flatbread -- beans are so versatile, the possibilities are endless.
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.
I just moved and had to go to a new doctor. At my first annual exam and lipid panel, she called me back for a consult because she wanted to put me on a statin due to “high” ldl cholestoral levels. I am female, 54, height 5’4” and weigh 130 lbs. My ldl was 123 – my triglycerides were 58. My hdl was 68. I had basically the same lipid panel 2 years ago at my last annual exam (before moving) and my doc there was not concerned other than suggesting I start a CoQ10 and Omega 3 regimen. I don’t smoke, I exercise at least 45 minutes a day (running, cycling, golf, walking, etc.) – my major weakness is sweets. Plus no heart disease in immediate family (both parents still alive at 79 & 80 – no history of stroke, etc.)
Why is one form of cholesterol considered good and another bad? There are actually as many as 18 kinds of cholesterol, but to save confusion, doctors divide them into two categories: LDL (bad) and HDL (good). Your liver manufactures most of your cholesterol, and small amounts of it go toward a variety of healthy purposes, including creating hormones that help turn food and exercise into muscle. Serving as cholesterol chauffeurs are fat/protein bunches called lipoproteins, and that’s where the fun begins: Low-density lipoproteins tend to deposit cholesterol on artery walls, where it builds up and eventually interferes with blood flow. But the high-density variety seems to take cholesterol back to the liver, where it can be eliminated from the body.
If you don’t already dust your cappuccino with cinnamon or shake pepper on your pasta, listen up: Spices like garlic, curcumin, ginger, black pepper, coriander, and cinnamon do more than flavor your food, they can also improve cholesterol. Research shows that eating a half to one clove of garlic each day could lower cholesterol up to 9%. Bonus: Adding extra seasoning to your food also reduces your appetite, so it’s easier to drop excess pounds, Steinbaum says.
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]
If you smoke, it’s time to pack it in. According to the American Heart Association, smoking reduces your HDL cholesterol levels, while increasing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you’re a smoker, you need to quit. Once you stop smoking, you can significantly improve your HDL cholesterol level very quickly and start protecting your heart. And if you’re a non-smoker, you need to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke to prevent your health from going up in smoke.
An easy way to make the switch from trans fats is by replacing them with unsaturated fats, which don’t increase your LDL cholesterol, according to WebMD. Unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, vegetable and sunflower oils, as well as fish, nuts, seeds and avocados. Just as unsaturated fats are healthy choices, unsaturated fats are not. Be sure to limit your intake of unsaturated fats, which are found in fatty meats, cold cuts, whole milk, whole-milk cheeses and many store-bought baked goods and snacks. Instead, enjoy lean cuts of meat, skim milk, low-fat cheeses and yogurt, and wholesome snacks to trim down your cholesterol levels.
The good news is that changing your cholesterol levels is well within your control as some of the smallest lifestyle tweaks can yield a profound impact. A fast track to boosting HDL includes quitting smoking and increasing physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 times per week with two sessions of resistance training. Your choices at mealtimes, however, may prove to be an easier more attainable way to make lasting change. Here are the foods that raise HDL cholesterol.
Population studies have shown that low levels of HDL cholesterol—less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women—increase the overall risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attacks. A person whose HDL level is lower than 35 mg/dL has eight times the risk of CAD as someone with an HDL level of 65 mg/dL. Experts have long thought that boosting HDL levels promotes heart health. But while low HDL is a strong and well-established risk factor for heart disease, the evidence for raising HDL remains uncertain. But experts agree that taking these heart healthy steps are still worthwhile.
Unsaturated fats are considered the healthiest fats because they improve cholesterol, help reduce inflammation (a risk factor for heart disease), and help decrease the overall risk of developing heart disease. The main source of unsaturated fats is plant-based foods. These fats are usually liquid at room temperature. There are two types of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Starting a simple exercise routine is another way to help lower your elevated LDL cholesterol level. And if you compound working out with the dietary tips listed above, you could potentially lower your LDL level by over 37 percent and increase your HDL cholesterol by over 5 percent in just two months. Not to mention the added benefits of losing weight, decreased stress, and higher energy, exercising is an all-around great activity to incorporate into your life. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity, four to five times each week, and you’ll be well on your way.
The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends you take in 2 grams of plant sterols and stanols each day. The FDA allows an approved health claim on phytosterols stating, "Foods containing at least 0.65 gram per serving of vegetable oil plant sterol esters, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 1.3 grams, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."
Besides putting your heart health at risk, sugar is also known to be one of the most significant contributors to metabolic syndrome. In fact, the recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines labeled sugar as a “nutrient of concern” and voiced recommendations for added sugars to not exceed greater than 10% of total daily calories. So, if your goal is to nip sugar in the bud and increase your HDL cholesterol levels, start by evaluating your libations.
Controlling your weight is an important part of getting to healthy cholesterol levels, so it’s crucial to know your portion sizes if you're trying to lower cholesterol. A portion of starchy carbohydrate, like potato or pasta, should be only about half the size of a baseball. A heart-healthy portion of meat should be about the size of a deck of playing cards, or about three ounces.
It’s a very common misconception that cholesterol is generally bad and high levels are always cause for serious concern. But what if I told you that there is a type of cholesterol that’s not only good at higher levels, but also decreases your risk of major health issues like heart disease? I have great news: This type of cholesterol really does exist. It’s called HDL cholesterol, and it’s our “good” cholesterol.
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.
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.
Once you know your cholesterol levels, it’s time to discuss a plan with your doctor. Although changing your lifestyle to include a heart-healthy diet and plenty of exercise is usually the first step to lower cholesterol, some types of cholesterol problems like familial hypercholesterolemia may require medication right away. Work with your doctor to come up with the best cholesterol goals for you and the best ways to get there.
Get Moving – Want healthy HDL levels? It’s time to lace up those sneakers and start exercising! Being physically active is essential for a healthy heart. Many types of exercise will help raise your HDL cholesterol, including high-intensity exercise, aerobic exercise, and strength training. Shoot to exercise most days out of the week for at least 30 minutes each session to experience the benefits.
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.
Foods naturally rich in soluble fiber have proven particularly good at lowering cholesterol. Excellent sources include oats, oat bran, barley, peas, yams, sweet potatoes and other potatoes, as well as legumes or beans, such as pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, and peas. Vegetables rich in soluble fiber include carrots, Brussels sprouts, beets, okra, and eggplant. Good fruit sources are berries, passion fruit, oranges, pears, apricots, nectarines, and apples.
Take fish oil. Fish oil contains an abundance of essential omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) that have been shown to lower triglyceride (blood fat) levels, minimize inflammation and clotting, and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Research indicates that omega-3s may help reduce the risk and symptoms of a variety of disorders influenced by inflammation, including heart attack and stroke. You can add omega-3s to your diet by eating more cold water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and black cod. If that’s not possible, Dr. Weil recommends taking two grams daily of a fish oil supplement that contains both essential omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). When choosing a supplement, look for one derived from molecularly distilled fish oils – these are naturally high in both EPA and DHA and low in contaminants. Also choose a supplement brand that has been independently tested and guaranteed to be free of heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and other environmental toxins including polychlorinated biphenyls, also known as PCBs.