Are you pouring up a glass of OJ in the morning? Is your daily caffeine fix a fountain coke at the local gas station? What about that fruity cocktail tempting you at happy hour? Eliminating sweetened beverages from the daily routine is one of the easiest ways to cut thousands of calories or more per week, but will also put years on your life. Water is the best form of hydration and can be flavored with citrus, tropical fruits, and herbs to create a refreshing spa-like oasis that will increase HDL levels when it replaces your typical sugar-sweetened beverages.
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.
In a Canadian study, drinking a few glasses of orange juice every day for four weeks increased participants’ HDL by 21 percent, possibly due to a flavonoid called hesperidin that appears extremely HDL-friendly. Subsequent research found that tangerine juice may be even more effective. Unfortunately, that much juice will add hundreds of excess sugar calories to your diet. So stick to a glass a day and be satisfied with lesser results. Or you can buy hesperidin as a supplement, though it won’t replace the many beneficial nutrients of orange juice (and certainly won’t taste as good).
Foods like oatmeal, apples, prunes, and beans are high in soluble fiber, which keeps your body from absorbing cholesterol. Research shows that people who ate 5 to 10 more grams of it each day saw a drop in their LDL. Eating more fiber also makes you feel full, so you won’t crave snacks as much. But beware: Too much fiber at one time can cause abdominal cramps or bloating. Increase your intake slowly.
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.