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.
So if there is a cholesterol that is actually good for us, how can we naturally increase its levels? The short answer is lifestyle. Your lifestyle actually has the single greatest impact on your HDL cholesterol level. So making changes to daily and completely controllable habits like diet and exercise can equate to healthier HDL cholesterol levels, which can lower your risk for life-threatening health issues.
Foods like oatmeal, apples, prunes, and beans are high in soluble fiber, which keeps your body from absorbing cholesterol. Research shows that people who ate 5 to 10 more grams of it each day saw a drop in their LDL. Eating more fiber also makes you feel full, so you won’t crave snacks as much. But beware: Too much fiber at one time can cause abdominal cramps or bloating. Increase your intake slowly.
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.
Fatty Fish Are Your Friends – Omega-3 fats present in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies give your heart major benefits, including a reduction in inflammation and increased functioning of the vital cells that line your arteries. Eating fatty fish or taking fish oil can also help increase your HDL cholesterol levels, so choose to dine on fish frequently to keep your heart healthy and happy!
Beans and legumes of all kinds are known to be an asset to a heart-healthy diet pattern because they’re rich in a type of fiber—soluble fiber—which helps to block cholesterol from being absorbed through the intestines into the blood stream. By increasing your intake of beans, like chickpeas, you can decrease LDL levels, which results in a higher percentage of HDL cholesterol. You can blend chickpeas with garlic, tahini, and lemon juice to make the perfect homemade hummus, or mix them with peanut butter and dark chocolate to make a decadent, high protein, edible cookie dough! Blogger Chocolate Covered Kate has a great recipe.
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).
Cholesterol is then returned to the liver by multiple routes. In the first route, cholesterol esters may be transferred from HDL to the apo B–containing lipoproteins, such as very–low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) or intermediate-density lipoprotein (IDL), by CETP. These lipoproteins undergo metabolism and subsequent uptake by the liver, primarily by a process mediated by the B,E receptor. In the second route, HDL particles may be taken up directly by the liver. In the third, free cholesterol may be taken up directly by the liver. Finally, HDL cholesterol esters may be selectively taken up via the scavenger receptor SR-B1.
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.
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.
Extra pounds increase your odds of having high LDL cholesterol levels and can lead to the development of heart disease, so you shouldn’t wait to lose weight. But you don’t need to lose a lot to improve your cholesterol levels. According to Healthline, any weight loss can increase your HDL cholesterol, while decreasing LDL levels. No matter how much you want to lose, start by making small changes. Reach out to a friend when you’re upset instead of reaching for Ben & Jerry’s. Munch on fresh fruit or vegetables instead of chips or cookies. And park at the farthest spot in the parking lot to sneak in a bit more activity. All of these little changes can add up to big results.
If you skip breakfast, you might want to give the most important meal of the day another shot. Women who eat a bowl of fiber-rich cereal every morning have lower levels of cholesterol than those who don't eat breakfast at all. It's all thanks to the fiber: "Fiber binds with cholesterol and speeds its excretion before it reaches your arteries," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD.
I just moved and had to go to a new doctor. At my first annual exam and lipid panel, she called me back for a consult because she wanted to put me on a statin due to “high” ldl cholestoral levels. I am female, 54, height 5’4” and weigh 130 lbs. My ldl was 123 – my triglycerides were 58. My hdl was 68. I had basically the same lipid panel 2 years ago at my last annual exam (before moving) and my doc there was not concerned other than suggesting I start a CoQ10 and Omega 3 regimen. I don’t smoke, I exercise at least 45 minutes a day (running, cycling, golf, walking, etc.) – my major weakness is sweets. Plus no heart disease in immediate family (both parents still alive at 79 & 80 – no history of stroke, etc.)
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.