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.
Aside from the inconvenience of taking niacin, two recent, highly-anticipated clinical trials have suggested that raising HDL levels with niacin failed to demonstrate any improvement in cardiovascular outcomes. Furthermore, treatment with niacin was associated with an increased risk of stroke and increased diabetic complications. At this point, most doctors are very reluctant to prescribe niacin therapy for the purpose of raising HDL levels.
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There is considerable controversy over whether high cholesterol is in itself a cause of heart disease (the lipid hypothesis), or a symptom of an inflammatory condition that is the true cause of heart disease (the inflammation hypothesis). According to the latter theory, chronically high levels of inflammation creates small lesions on arterial walls; the body sends LDL to heal those lesions, but it ultimately accumulates and oxidizes, causing blockages. From this perspective, the best lifestyle approach to lower cardiovascular disease risk is to lower inflammation in the body rather than LDL levels.
A study published in February 2016 in the journal PLoS One concluded as much. For nearly 11,000 adults, researchers found that low to moderate alcohol consumption (20 or fewer drinks a week for a man, 10 or fewer for a woman) led to higher levels of HDL cholesterol. It also helped get them to healthier overall cholesterol levels, decreasing triglycerides (blood fats in blood) and lowering LDL cholesterol.
Foods high in monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil, nuts, and the oils in many salad dressings) seem to boost HDL best; it’s likely that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as cold-water fish) do so as well. Saturated fats, the kind in meat and dairy foods, are likely to drive up harmful LDL, so take this opportunity to cut way back. Worst of all are trans-fatty acids, the hardened oils often found in margarine, crackers and other snack foods-a substance Harvard Medical School nutrition expert Walter C. Willett, M.D., author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, calls “uniquely bad.” These foods can do exactly the opposite of what you want, lowering HDL while raising LDL.
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.