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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.
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.

Oatmeal is one of the best cholesterol-fighting foods because it is so high in beta-glucans, the soluble fibers that cause oats to bulk up in liquid when you make oatmeal. Soluble fiber lowers your LDL, or "bad," cholesterol by forming a sticky layer in the small intestine that blocks cholesterol from entering your bloodstream. Make oatmeal and skip the instant packs with lots of added sugar. (In a rush? See our picks for best instant oatmeals.) Add fruit to your oatmeal to naturally sweeten it and boost the soluble fiber content even more.
With apologies to the American Heart Association, which discourages doctors from telling their patients about the advantages of alcohol: one or two drinks per day can significantly increase HDL levels. More than one or two drinks per day, one hastens to add, can lead to substantial health problems including heart failure. And unfortunately, there are many people who are simply incapable of limiting their alcohol intake to one or two drinks per day. Here's more on alcohol and the heart.
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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.
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.
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.
And according to some powerful experiments by software engineer-turned-biohacker Dave Feldman, you can actually increase and decrease your cholesterol at will. It all depends on how much fat you eat — and, directly against mainstream dietary knowledge, the correlation is inverted. In other words, eating more fat will actually lower your cholesterol.
George T Griffing, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, American College of Medical Practice Executives, American Association for Physician Leadership, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, American Heart Association, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Endocrine Society

Pasta and heart health together in one sentence seems to be an oxymoron, however with one small tweak spaghetti can become a cholesterol-busting meal. Instead of opting for white, refined noodles, choose the less-processed, vitamin-enriched counterpart: whole grain pasta. Barilla makes one that has 7 grams of fiber per serving, and — what’s more — none of the stress-fighting B-vitamins have been removed. A B vitamin known as niacin has been found to decrease LDL levels and increase HDL when taken in doses above your vitamin requirement, according to a guide to lowering your cholesterol by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Perhaps most disappointing of all, a new class of drugs (the so-called CETP-inhibitors), which several pharmaceutical companies have been enthusiastically developing for several years to raise HDL levels, has become a great disappointment. While these drugs do indeed increase HDL levels, they have not demonstrated an ability to improve cardiac risk — and on the contrary, studies appear to show a worsening in cardiac risk with some of these drugs. It is unclear today whether any CETP-inhibitors will ever reach the market.
However, environmental factors also have a significant impact on HDL levels. Factors that elevate HDL concentrations include chronic alcoholism, treatment with oral estrogen replacement therapy, extensive aerobic exercise, and treatment with niacin, statins, or fibrates. [11, 12, 13] On the other hand, smoking reduces levels of HDL-C, while quitting smoking leads to a rise in the plasma HDL level.
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.
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