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.
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.
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]

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.


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.

Fiber is your friend when cholesterol is the enemy, so reach for foods that are full of soluble fiber. Just be aware that fiber comes in different forms, with one called soluble fiber and the other known as insoluble fiber. While both are good for your heart, it’s soluble fiber that’s great for your cholesterol. In addition to making you feel full, soluble fiber can actually reduce the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs. According to the Mayo Clinic, eating at least five to 10 grams of soluble fiber each day can lower both your LDL and total cholesterol levels. So better fill up your kitchen, along your body, with fiber-filled foods.


According to a study published in November 2015 in the journal Nature, a diet high in carbohydrates — like added sugar, white bread, cookies, and cakes — reduces HDL cholesterol levels, increasing the risk for metabolic disorders. Refined carbohydrates found in foods labeled “low-fat” make these just as bad as full-fat foods because the fat is often replaced with carbohydrates from added sugar and other starches.
An under-valued element of bone and cardiovascular health is the role of Vitamin K2, which many individuals are unknowingly deficient in. Found in the Japanese breakfast delicacy “natto” (fermented soybeans), vitamin K2 not only helps remove calcium from the arteries and soft tissues to prevent atherosclerosis, but it also draws calcium into the bones to prevent the risk of fracture. Nattokinase, an enzyme found in natto, may help to increase HDL levels while lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, according to an Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition study.
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.
What causes high cholesterol? High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart attacks and coronary heart disease, because it builds up in the arteries, narrowing them. It does not usually have any symptoms, and many people do not know they have it. We look at healthy levels and ranges of cholesterol, at ways to prevent it, and medications to treat it. Read now
A: Before I answer that question, why bother to increase HDL cholesterol at all? Many studies have found that people with low levels of HDL are at increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other complications of arteries diseased by atherosclerosis: that's why we call HDL the "good" cholesterol. Given that, you'd think that raising HDL levels would reduce a person's risk for atherosclerosis. Unfortunately, despite a lot of research, we don't yet know if that's true, nor how best to raise HDL levels.
Along with exercising, eating a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do to reach and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Learn how to read nutrition labels and know the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats. Calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat numbers are all right there on the nutrition facts label to help you make heart-healthy choices.
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.

Before you begin dramatically changing your diet or taking any supplements, you should talk with your doctor and dietitian. Food is an outstanding and all-natural way to deliver more heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to your body. However, certain foods and supplements are off-limits because of their possible interactions with medications or prescriptions.
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.
In both studies, mega-doses of statins (a doubling and tripling of regular doses) drove LDL levels way down. But in both studies, mega-doses also caused problems. Suffering from adverse side effects like muscle pain, memory loss, and elevated liver enzymes, patients on the high doses stopped taking their medications at twice the rate of patients on regular doses.
Soy isoflavones significantly decreased serum total cholesterol by 0.10 mmol/L (3.9 mg/dL or 1.77%; P = 0.02) and LDL cholesterol by 0.13 mmol/L (5.0 mg/dL or 3.58%; P < 0.0001); no significant changes in HDL cholesterol and triacylglycerol were found. Isoflavone-depleted soy protein significantly decreased LDL cholesterol by 0.10 mmol/L (3.9 mg/dL or 2.77%; P = 0.03). Soy protein that contained enriched isoflavones significantly decreased LDL cholesterol by 0.18 mmol/L (7.0 mg/dL or 4.98%; P < 0.0001) and significantly increased HDL cholesterol by 0.04 mmol/L (1.6 mg/dL or 3.00%; P = 0.05). The reductions in LDL cholesterol were larger in the hypercholesterolemic subcategory than in the normocholesterolemic subcategory, but no significant linear correlations were observed between reductions and the starting values. No significant linear correlations were found between reductions in LDL cholesterol and soy protein ingestion or isoflavone intakes.
Fatty fish is not the only source of heart-healthy omega-3s! In fact, flaxseed is one of the richest sources of the anti-inflammatory fat. In animal models supplementation of flaxseed has shown to increase HDL levels which is why cardiologists and dietitians recommend it be incorporated into a balanced diet. Consumers beware though—in order for the gut to fully absorb the vitamins, minerals this seed provides, the ground version needs to be purchased.
Raise your glass for heart health! In moderation, alcohol is known to raise HDL, or "good," cholesterol. Drinking a daily glass of red wine increased "good" HDL cholesterol and also decreased "bad" LDL cholesterol after a few months, found one study. Red wine also contains antioxidants called polyphenols that help keep your blood vessels healthy and strong. Remember that moderation means one drink for women or two for men daily and, in this case, more is not better.
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.
While diet and exercise should be your two main options for fighting off LDL cholesterol, you can also look into the various dietary supplements that are on the market today. Consider omega-3 fish oils, artichoke extract, and green tea extract. Keep in mind that these natural products have not been fully proven to reduce your level of LDL cholesterol, but they may be able to help along the way.
Though the age-old myth stating eggs are bad for our blood cholesterol has been debunked, one thing for certain is that reducing total saturated fats in the diet leads to an improved cholesterol profile. What does this mean in terms of animal protein? The American Heart Association recommends consuming less red meat overall and choosing leaner cuts to lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. Chicken is a versatile choice that doesn’t have to be boring or dry. Check out our 35 healthy ways to prepare this bird!
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.
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.
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