According to the Mayo Clinic, ideal HDL levels for both men and women are 60 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood. If a man’s HDL level is below 40 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood or a woman’s HDL level is below 50 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, then disease risk, specifically heart disease, is considered to be heightened. Even if your HDL level is above the at-risk number (but below the desirable number), you still want to work on increasing your HDL level so you can decrease your heart disease risk. (9)
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.
Niacin (vitamin B3) is believed to block cholesterol production in the body. Although niacin in prescription supplement form appears to be most effective in increasing HDL, it may have side effects such as flushing, itching, and headache, so you may want to consider adding niacin-containing foods to your diet first. Niacin is found in high concentrations in crimini mushrooms, chicken breast, halibut, tomato, romaine lettuce, enriched bread, and cereals.
Part of the “French paradox”-lower heart-disease rates in butter-and-cream-feasting France-may stem from the HDL benefits of wine consumption. For some people, however, alcohol causes more troubles than it cures. “Men should limit themselves to one or two drinks a day,” Willett says. “After that, you start worrying about adverse consequences.” While any alcoholic beverage will do, the antioxidants in red wine or dark beer may give you an added benefit.
If you’re one of the 73.5 million Americans who have unhealthy cholesterol levels, heart-healthy lifestyle changes are important ways to improve your cholesterol and prevent it from getting progressively worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than half of people with high LDL cholesterol (the type of cholesterol that puts you at risk for heart disease) are getting treated, and not even one in three have their high cholesterol under control.
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Where HDL is concerned, “you can’t be too thin,” Castelli says. One report found about a 1 percent rise in HDL for every pound of fat lost. This doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into a toothpick, but that you should work on getting rid of excess flab as you add muscle. (Use a body-fat monitor rather than a scale to chart your progress.) Fortunately, fat loss is likely to go hand in hand with the exercise and dietary modifications that also raise HDL levels.
Including fish in your diet can increase HDL cholesterol in a short period of time. In a study published in February 2014 in the journal PLoS One, researchers concluded that a diet rich in foods including fish showed an increase in the size of HDL particles in the body, which could help improve cholesterol transport through the body. The researchers saw the positive effects of a diet that included fish in as little as 12 weeks.
Of course, this was an N=1 experiment, meaning there’s only one subject in his experiment. It’s possible that Feldman is unusual. He thought the same thing, so he shared his data and sent an open invitation to people to try the protocol for themselves. As of now, more than 50 people have followed Feldman’s experiment. Virtually all of them reported the same results (it’s worth noting that they’ve all been on a high-fat, low-carb diet).
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.