High-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and triglycerides combine to make up your total cholesterol level.
HDL is like a natural cholesterol vacuum in that it carries extra LDL cholesterol and triglycerides out of your arteries and sends them to the liver for disposal.
But while most people focus on lowering bad LDL, you still need to monitor your good HDL cholesterol levels. Making changes to your diet is the first line of defense for anyone looking to raise HDL cholesterol.
Following a healthy fat-focused diet plan, such as the Mediterranean diet, helps improve total cholesterol by raising HDL.
Although it is possible to raise HDL levels through diet alone, the best results will come from incorporating exercise as well.
What is HDL cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that occurs naturally in the body and travels through the bloodstream. Your liver makes most of your cholesterol, and some cholesterol comes from the animal foods you eat.
People automatically associate it with heart disease when they hear the word cholesterol. However, not all cholesterol is the same. There is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), often known as the “good” type of cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol. HDL and LDL are not created equal and do not have the same effect on your body.
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HDL-C, or high-density lipoprotein, is one of the five major lipoproteins and carries a quarter to a third of your total LDL to the liver for disposal. It is very dense and contains less fat and more protein than other types of cholesterol.
A simple way to track your cholesterol and lipid profile is to sign up for HealthifyPro. With a CGM, smart scale, metabolic dashboard, health coaches and calorie counter, HealthifyPro helps you achieve superior metabolic health.
With a single-bite sampling, a metabolic panel reveals medical conditions you may be predisposed to. You can also see your whole blood profile, including lipid profile, LFT, KFT, TFT, iron study, hemogram, diabetes screening and vitamin profile, among 85 other metabolic parameters, with a test every three months.
And let’s say you’re a diabetic patient looking for evidence-based results and real-time information. Then the HealthifyPro CGM monitors your body’s glucose levels 24/7 and how it responds to different foods, exercise and sleep.
After analyzing comprehensive information from metabolic tests and CGM, Pro Coaches develop nutrition and exercise strategies to help minimize glucose levels. Lower spikes mean better metabolic health and better cholesterol levels.
What are optimal HDL cholesterol levels?
HDL: A range of 40 to 59 mg/dL is normal, but doctors often recommend an HDL level of 60 mg/dL or higher for optimal benefits. However, there must be a balance between HDL, LDL and triglycerides to reduce cardiovascular disease.
For example, one study suggests that HDL protection depends on LDL and triglyceride levels. If the other two fats or lipids in the blood are not within normal limits, even high HDL may not be protective.
For example, high HDL (40 mg/dL or higher) reduces cardiovascular disease only when your LDL and triglycerides are 100 mg/dL or less. High HDL does not show a protective effect when LDL and triglyceride levels fall below 100 mg/dL or above 150 mg/dL.
Normal levels of HDL cholesterol in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) by age and sex are:
|Under threat||It’s preferable|
|Anyone (19 or younger)||More than 45 mg/dL|
|Men (20 and over)||Less than 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L)||60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or higher|
|Women (20 and over)||Less than 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L)||60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or higher|
In most cases, the higher your HDL levels, the better. For adults, the upper range for HDL cholesterol is 65 mg/dL for men and 80 mg/dL for women. Sometimes, the benefits of HDL can extend up to 90 mg/dL in men.
Although HDL levels below 40 mg/dL are problematic, raising HDL cholesterol beyond a certain point provides no other benefit.
Research also suggests that too high HDL cholesterol is indicative of dysfunctional HDL, which can promote cardiovascular disease.
Foods That Raise Your HDL Cholesterol
Olive oil reduces the risk of heart disease more than any other monounsaturated fat. It also raises HDL cholesterol due to its high concentration of polyphenols.
Read more. Olive Oil – Benefits, Uses, Nutrition, Types and How to Use
A study shows that consuming about four tablespoons of olive oil a day for six weeks helps raise HDL cholesterol in older adults.
You might assume that adding more fat to your diet is bad. However, it depends on the type of fat you eat, as good fats make up a heart-healthy diet.
Nuts such as walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pecans are good sources of protein, fiber and healthy fats. They offer omega-3 fatty acid and alpha-linolenic acid, which play a significant role in raising HDL cholesterol.
Purple foods such as eggplant, black raspberries, red cabbage, blueberries and blackberries contain antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Anthocyanin extracts help fight inflammation, protect against potentially cancer-causing free radicals, and raise HDL cholesterol.
Chia, flaxseed, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds are chock full of protein, omega-3s, fiber, and heart-healthy minerals. You can eat ground flaxseeds to lower your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.
It does this by stimulating HDL particles to carry out a mechanism of reverse cholesterol transport, which transports extra cholesterol to the liver for redistribution or removal.
Oily fish and fish oil supplements contain impressive amounts of omega-3 fats, which help reduce inflammation and raise low HDL cholesterol levels.
Read more. The best types of fish to eat and avoid
Eating fatty fish 2-3 times a week significantly improves your total cholesterol ratio. Salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel and trout are some of the best fatty fish for raising HDL levels.
Cocoa and dark chocolate
Studies show that cocoa flavanols have beneficial effects on HDL cholesterol and cardiometabolic health. Instead of eating chocolates with added sugar or sugary hot chocolate, mix some fresh cocoa powder into your morning oatmeal, smoothie or yogurt. For optimal benefits, also choose dark chocolate with at least 75% cocoa.
The monounsaturated fatty acids in avocados lower LDL while raising HDL. According to a 2018 study, eating one avocado a day for five weeks while following a moderate-fat diet improved total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, and HDL.
Beans and beans
Beans and grains are rich in soluble fiber, plant sterols, and stanols that help improve the LDL-HDL ratio. Sterols and stanols are also found in quinoa, oat bran, almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
Fruits and vegetables
Nutritionists always encourage the addition of fruits and vegetables because of their dietary fiber, nutrient, mineral, and vitamin content.
High-fiber fruits and vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, apples, pears, and oranges, are the best foods to raise HDL.
Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, barley, brown rice and whole wheat are rich in beta-glucan, which binds bad cholesterol and removes it from the body.
A varied diet should include whole grains to balance LDL, HDL and triglycerides. Oats and barley can be a hearty breakfast cereal and contribute to the recommended 3 grams of beta-glucan per day to improve heart health.
Adding 40 g of soy protein per day to a diet low in animal protein can raise HDL cholesterol in adults with otherwise normal cholesterol levels. However, choose minimally processed soy products such as tofu, tempeh or miso.
The HealthifyMe note
After a certain threshold, higher HDL levels offer no additional protection. However, having a low HDL level or below 40 mg/dL is unhealthy. Certain foods raise your “good” or HDL cholesterol, such as oats, beans, legumes, olive oil, whole grains, nuts, seeds, oily fish, and berries.
Raise HDL Cholesterol Like a Pro!
Even when eating HDL-rich, heart-healthy foods, you may have different results than others who eat the same foods. It is a common misconception that everyone reacts to food in the same way.
For example, if your friend feels energized after eating oatmeal for breakfast, you may not feel the same. Your blood glucose response to food is individual and is highly dependent on your eating speed, hormonal cycle, stress, microbiome, meal complexity, and other factors.
It also fully explains why there is no one-size-fits-all diet for cholesterol and why the effectiveness of diets contradicts each other. Therefore, guidance from HealthifyMe’s in-house dietitians, nutritionists, and fitness trainers allows you to make insightful choices for foods that work for you.
Most nutritional advice is redundant and applies to everyone, such as drinking enough water or eating more vegetables. But when it comes to more specific strategies, such as how much to eat to maintain HDL cholesterol and what to eat, you should discuss appropriate meal plans with your doctor or nutritionist.
Professional trainers will tailor meal plans based on your current HDL levels, calorie budget, regular activity and food preferences.
The app’s simple yet sophisticated interface includes calorie tracking, sleep scheduling, and post-workout calorie counting. You can also track your steps by syncing your Google Fit app with the HealthifyMe app.
Consultation calls and AI nutritionist Ria provide daily and weekly insights to track your progress. All these premium services cater to different age groups.
Several factors affect HDL cholesterol levels, including diet, physical activity, family history, genetics, and more. Heart-healthy foods easily raise your HDL cholesterol levels while controlling your “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. However, raising your HDL cholesterol doesn’t have to focus on cutting your favorite foods out of your diet.
Learn how to raise your HDL cholesterol and improve your heart health with the HealthifyMe app. While you juggle work-life balance, HealthifyMe coaches plan healthier meals and workouts for your heart.