Not all cholesterol is bad for your health. High-density lipoprotein, often abbreviated as HDL, is known as the "good" cholesterol that is very important in cholesterol regulation. Find out more about “good” cholesterol and what foods can help you increase your levels naturally.
What Is It?
HDL is the smallest of the lipoprotein family and has the highest amounts of protein and cholesterol. It helps prevent "bad" (LDL) cholesterol buildup by attaching to them and removing them from artery walls, hence protecting the cardiovascular system by warding off heart disease, stroke and hypertension. Healthy adult women should aim for a level of 50 milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL) or more, and healthy adult men should aim for a level of 40 mg per dL or more for cardiovascular benefits.
Foods To Eat
Indeed, diet and food choices play the key role in elevating the level of HDL cholesterol in your body. A healthy eating habit can also promote weight loss and possibly encourage physical activity, which are also crucial in naturally raising HDL cholesterol. Hence, by making wise eating decisions, you can help yourself begin a healthful cycle that will protect your heart, arteries and blood well into old age. Some foods that can help raise HDL cholesterol levels naturally include:
Soluble fiber, which are found in almost all plants, is not only important in raising HDL levels, but also important in maintaining colon and digestive health. At least two servings of soluble fiber should be ingested daily. Excellent sources of soluble fiber include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Sweet potatoes
- Garbanzo beans
Not all fats are considered detrimental to the health, as healthy fats actually help increase levels of HDL cholesterol in the blood and help protect the heart. All unsaturated fats are considered "healthy" fats, and are usually listed as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats on food labels. Omega-3, another "healthy" fat, is an essential fatty acid that also encourages the natural rise of HDL cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, healthy fats can be found in food items such as:
- Sunflower seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Canola oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Olive oil
- Soybean oil
- Fish oil supplements
- Enriched eggs
- Grass-fed beef or lamb (versus grain-fed)
Foods To Moderate And Watch Out For
While the food items listed above can naturally elevate HDL levels, certain foods can actually decrease HDL levels and detriment the body. Some foods to regulate or watch out for include:
According to the American Heart Association, mild to moderate alcohol intake may actually lead to a small increase of HDL levels, as seen in studies done with red wine. However, excessive consumption of alcohol will decrease HDL levels and harm the body, so be sure to regulate and limit alcohol consumption. Acceptable alcohol consumption equals one to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. A drink is defined by:
- One 12 ounce beer
- 4 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits
- 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits
Trans fatty acids are usually found in deep fried foods, baked goods and processed snacks, and should be avoided altogether. Found in partially or whole hydrogenated oils, trans fats are used to prolong the shelf life of many foods and prevent oils from becoming rancid. However, not only are trans fats linked to cancer, it also significantly decreases the "good" cholesterol in the body. Excessive trans fat intake can lead to numerous health problems.
(Learn what foods in your kitchen or grocery contain trans fats by reading 10 Surprising Foods With Trans Fats.)
Helpful Tips And Suggestions
So how can you put all this information on foods that can naturally raise HDL cholesterol into action? Here are some helpful tips and suggestions that can bring you a step closer to a healthier heart.
- Opt for grilled, poached, or steamed foods.
- Avoid deep frying. Try sautéing or stir frying instead.
- When cooking, use a vegetable oil instead of butter.
- Swap mayonnaise with guacamole in your sandwich.
- Try rye bread or whole wheat bread with your next sandwich.
- Use heart-healthy vegetable oils in marinades.
- Spread toast with a nut butter, such as peanut or almond butter, instead of salt and butter.
- Toss some flaxseeds into the blender next time you make a smoothie.
- Extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar makes a great dressing for salads.
- Add nuts or dried fruit to your salad for a crunchy component.
- Substitute sugary cereals with oatmeal and berries.
- Add a fish oil supplement with your daily multivitamin.
- Apples, carrots, or celery with hummus or peanut butter makes a delicious snack.
- Try a nutty trail mix for a change instead of the usual granola bar.
Remember, maintaining a healthy cholesterol level means regulating both HDL and LDL cholesterol. Make sure you eat the foods necessary to increase your “good” cholesterol naturally, and avoid unhealthy foods to help keep your “bad” cholesterol in-check.