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.
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.
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.
If you want to increase the benefits of the fats you eat, work out before you chow down. A study at the University of Missouri found that regular exercise prior to high-fat meals produces a large hike in HDL. I’m not suggesting that your excuse for indulging in high-fat meals ought to be a pre-meal workout, merely that exercise before a meal works to your heart’s advantage.
However, although low levels of HDL predict increased cardiovascular risk, particularly in healthy individuals with no history of cardiovascular events, the relationship between HDL and CHD risk is complex, with HDL-C and cardiovascular disease having a nonlinear relationship. For example, research found that HDL levels above approximately 60 mg/dL showed no further improvement in prognosis, and the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition)-Norfolk and IDEAL (Incremental Decrease in End Points through Aggressive Lipid Lowering) studies showed that very high levels of HDL may actually be associated with an increased risk of atherosclerotic disease. [5, 6, 2]
It’s harder to increase HDL or "good" cholesterol than it is to lower LDL or total cholesterol. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of the variation in HDL from person to person is due to genetic factors. But the following steps have been shown to boost HDL—and they are worth taking because they also lower total cholesterol and help protect the heart in many ways beyond their effect on HDL.
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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.
Dr. Pacold notes that exercise has a greater effect on raising HDL cholesterol, which protects you from heart disease, than on lowering the LDL cholesterol that puts you at risk. It's good to know that even if you don’t see the numbers changing right away, regular exercise strengthens your heart and protects you from heart disease. If you’re not a big fan of exercise and not in great shape to begin with, remember that all you need to do to start reaping the heart-healthy benefits of exercise is 30 minutes of walking at a moderate pace every day. If you have a heart condition, talk with your doctor first about how much exertion is right for you when you begin, and then work your way up to your fitness goals for heart health.
"These fish are best for cholesterol, but any fish is better than red meat," says Pacold. “Every time you have fish as a protein source instead of red meat, you are doing your heart a favor.” If you don't eat fish, you can get your needed dose of omega-3s in the form of a diet supplement pill, he suggests. Flaxseeds, walnuts, and even mixed greens are plant-based options to get more omega-3s in your diet.
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.
But keep in mind that not all cholesterol is created equally. LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad cholesterol,” is the form that can build up on the artery walls and increase your risk of heart disease. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is often dubbed “good cholesterol” because it travels through the bloodstream, removing harmful cholesterol from the arteries to help enhance heart health.
Tree nuts, such as walnuts, pistachios and pecans, have been shown to lower both total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol. Nuts are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber and several vitamins and minerals that are good for heart health. Nuts also contain plant sterols, which are natural compounds that block the cholesterol you eat from entering your bloodstream. While nuts are awesome to eat, don't go crazy. Portion control is still important—there are 163 calories in just 1 ounce of almonds. Add a small handful to oatmeal, top toast with nut butter or make a DIY trail mix with dried fruit and nuts.
Swap extra-virgin olive oil for all your other oils and fats when cooking at low temperatures, since extra-virgin olive oil breaks down at high temperatures. Use the oil in salad dressings, sauces, and to flavor foods once they’re cooked. Sprinkle chopped olives on salads or add them to soups, like in this Sicilian fish soup. Just be sure to use extra-virgin olive oil in moderation, since it’s high in calories.
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.
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).
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.
I very simply lowered my cholesterol 57 points in 6 month (257 to 200) and my ldl from 158 to 132 by not eating meat. It has now been a year since I stopped eating meat, I cannot exercise due to major surgery but lost 50lbs and will have my cholesterol retested in September for my annual checkup. I’m also planning on going back to the gym soon. High cholesterol runs in my family and I was determined not to go on medication like my mom. I gained 30lbs when I was injured, I did not intend to go back to my weight as a teenager when I stopped eating meat, just lower my cholesterol, that was just a perk. I never deprive myself of food, I eat fish and I don’t miss meat from my diet at all. It was a conscience choice I made to try and lower my cholesterol, no one told me to or advised me but it worked and I’m happy I took the path. Good luck to all and stay healthy!
Many people don't like to hear it, but regular aerobic exercise (any exercise, such as walking, jogging or bike riding, that raises your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes at a time) may be the most effective way to increase HDL levels. Recent evidence suggests that the duration of exercise, rather than the intensity, is the more important factor in raising HDL cholesterol. But any aerobic exercise helps.
Berberine – this is a plant-based natural supplement to raise HDL. It’s ideal for promoting healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It may very well be the single most powerful supplement we carry. Due to soil depletion and modern farming practices, it’s nearly impossible to get the nutrition you need from food alone. Use Berberine as the supplement of choice to boost HDL.
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
Although this breakfast choice may not satisfy your kid (or your kid-at-heart), high fiber cereals are an easy way to improve your cholesterol profile. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that high fiber oat cereals lower LDL particle number without decreasing HDL concentrations, thus improving your ratio and giving HDL levels a percentage increase. Look for a product with a minimal amount of sugar and at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. A great oat-based choice is Barbara’s Morning Oat Crunch, which has 5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein per cup.
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that can help reduce blood pressure. Eating salmon can improve your "good" HDL cholesterol, but it won't lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps sweep cholesterol off your artery walls, preventing dangerous plaque from forming. The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish like salmon at least twice per week for heart-healthy benefits. Other fish that contain omega-3s, such as mackerel, tuna and sardines, can also help.