7 best ways to increase “good” HDL cholesterol

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7 best ways to increase “good” HDL cholesterol

Not all cholesterol is bad.  In fact, there is a “good” type of cholesterol called high density lipoprotein or HDL that our body needs to help remove excess cholesterol and plaque buildup in our arteries.  Think of HDL cholesterol sort of like a trash pickup service. It drives through the arteries picking up surplus cholesterol our body doesn’t need and dumping it into the liver.  The liver does the rest by expelling this extra cholesterol from our body.  This helps to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

When our body has low levels of HDL cholesterol – less than 40 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) for men and less than 50 mg/dl for women – this can increase our risk for coronary artery disease (CAD).  If the HDL level falls below 35 mg/dl, a person can have eight times the risk of CAD compared to someone with an HDL level of 65 mg/dl or higher. 

With HDL cholesterol being a well-established factor for helping lower heart disease, it would be worthwhile to do what one can to increase their HDL levels.  Although your HDL cholesterol levels are partly determined by your genetics, there are still many things you can do to increase your own levels.  The question is how to go about this.  Here are several things all of us should do to boost our levels of HDL reducing our risk of CAD:

1.  Eat healthy foods raising HDL

Just like some foods can raise your bad cholesterol there are certain foods that can raise the good cholesterol or HDL.  Begin including more of these HDL-friendly foods into your daily diet:

·      Olive oil

·      Beans and lentils

·      Whole grains

·      High fiber fruits such as pears, prunes and apples

·      Ground flaxseed (sprinkle into cereal, oatmeal, salads, dips, and yogurt) and flaxseed oil

·      Nuts

·      Chia seeds

·      Avocados

·      Red wine

2.  Choose purple produce

Beyond the pleasing appearance on a plate, the color purple is a cue for nutritional power.  All fruits and vegetables are good for lowering bad or LDL cholesterol while increasing good or HDL cholesterol, but purple-hued produce contain an antioxidant called anthocyanins.    Studies have shown anthocyanins help fight inflammation, protect cells from damaging free radicals and may also raise HDL or good cholesterol.

Fortunately there are several foods of the color purple that contain this all-important substance of anthocyanins.  These include eggplant, purple corn, red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries and black raspberries. 

3.  Eat fatty fish often

Fatty fish are a terrific source of omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids provide major benefits to heart health including reduction in inflammation and better functioning of the cells lining your arteries.  Results of studies on diets rich in seafood (fish and shellfish) and heart disease provide evidence that people who eat seafood at least once a week are less likely to die of heart disease than those who rarely or never eat seafood.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults eat 8 or more ounces of a variety of seafood per week which includes salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, mackerel and anchovies. 

What makes fatty fish so good for the heart is that it is rich in EPA and DHA, substances found to protect against heart disease. 

For those who are not particularly fond of fish, consult with your doctor first, but it is recommended to take a fish oil supplement containing EPA/DHA to get the protective effects similar to eating fatty fish.

4.   Increase exercise

Any kind of regular, consistent aerobic exercise from running, jumping rope to bicycling will boost HDL.  The more one exercises, the greater the effect.

5.  Loss excess weight

If you are carrying extra pounds, it would be to your benefit to reach a healthier body weight.  Not only will you have more energy and feel overall better, but your HDL levels can jump up.  Be mindful of portion sizes, choose healthy foods and exercise to reach your goal.

6.  Don’t smoke

The simple act of smoking will lower HDL levels by an average of five points while also increasing total cholesterol.  Even if you don’t personally smoke but if you live with or are frequently around someone who does exposure to secondhand smoke can lower HDL levels. 

7.  Medications

If you have tried naturally to lower your HDL level but it has barely budged, it may be time to talk with your doctor about using medications.  Statin medications usually raise HDL modestly by about 5 to 10 percent.  However, other drugs such as high-dose niacin and fibrates can raise HDL levels significantly.