Cholesterol

Explore the myths surrounding this popular health topic and learn how to restore and maintain healthy cholesterol.

10 Tips to Increase Good Cholesterol

Confused on what is the "good" cholesterol? Learn what makes it so valuable and how to increase HDL cholesterol levels here!

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women and accounts for every 1 in 4 deaths.

While there are multiple contributors to these alarming statistics, high cholesterol increases the risk of developing heart disease. But not all cholesterol is considered to be "bad."

In fact, higher levels of that "good" cholesterol can actually protect the heart and arteries from disease. But what is the "good" cholesterol?

Learn what makes it so valuable and how to raise good cholesterol levels here.

What is the "Good" Cholesterol?

High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or the "good," cholesterol. HDL works to clear out low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or known as the "bad" cholesterol, which can cause fatty buildup in the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.

So when HDL is present, it carries the LDL cholesterol from the arteries and to the liver, where it is broken down and excreted from the body.

WebMD warns HDL cholesterol levels less than 40 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is not good. A recommended HDL cholesterol level is 60 mg/dL or higher.

If numbers are lower than the recommendations, this likely provokes curiosity on how to raise good cholesterol levels. Fortunately, there are proven steps to increase HDL cholesterol and improve health.

How to Increase HDL Cholesterol

1. Increase Dietary Fiber Intake

Dietary fiber is an indigestible plant component well-known for its supporting role in bowel and heart health. There is evidence showing a link between high-fiber diets and higher HDL levels.

As part of a heart-healthy diet plan, men should consume at least 38 grams of fiber each day while women should consume at least 25 grams daily.

Ensure adequate fiber intake by:

• Choosing whole grains over refined grains, including oats, barley, wheat, brown rice, and products that contain them
• Consuming at least 3 servings of vegetables daily
• Electing 2 servings of whole fruit daily, in which their skin intact
• Limiting or avoiding juices devoid of its fiber content
• Incorporating more plant-based protein sources, including black beans, chickpeas, and lentils

2. Regulate Trans and Saturated Fats In the Diet

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 25 to 35 percent of total daily calories coming from fat. But not just any type of fat…

The AHA advises reducing saturated fats to less than 5 to 6 percent and trans fats to less than 1 percent, as their intake can lower HDL levels, raise LDL levels, and increase the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

Naturally regulate the intake of trans and saturated fats by:

• Identifying for and steering clear of products prepared with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
• Limiting commercially prepared baked goods, including doughnuts, cookies, cookies, and other pastries
• Reducing fried foods
• Using healthier vegetable oils when cooking, including olive and canola oils

3. Swap Out Red Meat with Fatty Fish

While lean red meats can certainly fit into a well-balanced diet, aim to eat more fish in its spot, or at least twice per week.

Fatty fish is naturally low in saturated fat and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which shows to increase HDL better than an omega-3 supplement.

Fatty fish rich in omega-3s include:

• Anchovy
• Halibut
• Herring
• Mackerel
• Rainbow trout

4. Consider Fish Oil Supplements

While fatty fish consumptions showed to be superior in improving lipid parameters, fish oil supplements can still be a valuable option, especially for those who do not consume omega-3-rich fish.

There is evidence showing moderate amounts of fish oil (6 grams per day) may be increase HDL cholesterol.

If interested in supplementation, check with your doctor to find out which products are reputable and recommended intake levels.

5. Moderate Alcohol Consumption

While alcohol may actually increase HDL levels related to its antioxidant properties, it is important to keep its consumption in moderation or health can be compromised.

Men should limit alcohol consumption to two servings per day while women should limit to one serving.

Alcohol serving sizes include:

• 12 ounces of regular or light beer
• 5 ounces of red or white wine
• 1.5 ounces of liquor

6. Lose or Maintain Weight

Being overweight increases LDL and reduces HDL cholesterol. Harvard Health suggests losing 5 to 10 percent of current weight can raise HDL.

To put these numbers in perspective, if weighing 240 pounds, a 5 to 10 percent weight loss equates to losing 12 to 24 pounds.

When following an overall healthy diet and lifestyle, achieving a healthy weight can result. But most importantly, healthy weight loss is most successful and sustained when it is gradual.

Avoid drastic weight loss measures and focus on a well-balanced diet instead.

7. Manage Diabetes

Having diabetes tends to lower HDL levels and raise triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels, which further increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.

That being said, it is important to advise a plan to prevent from uncontrolled blood sugars. Diabetes management may involve:

• Regular blood sugar tracking
• Coordination of a multidisciplinary healthcare team
• Diabetes meal plan, particularly with the focus on complex
carbohydrate, fiber, lean protein, and healthy fat
• Medications, including antihyperglycemic agents and insulin
• Weight loss and maintenance
• Regular exercise
• Support groups

8. Participate in Regular Physical Activity

Raising the heart rate can help raise good cholesterol.  Besides, there is a strong body of evidence supporting physical activity improves both HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, including in previously sedentary populations.

So truly, there is no better time to get active. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minute of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week, which can be accomplished with some of the indicated cardio activities:

• Brisk walking
• Jogging and running
• Cycling
• Skiing
• Swimming
• Dancing
• Rowing
• Kickboxing

Especially if new to exercise, start slow and work towards the recommended minutes. A doctor can also provide a safe, yet effective exercise regimen to fit personal needs and preference.

Ultimately, too, dismissing a sedentary lifestyle is key and any exercise is better than going without it.

9. If You Smoke, Try to Quit

Smoking negatively effects HDL levels in multiple ways and there is clear evidence smokes have significantly lower HDL levels compared to non-smokers.

By quitting smoking, smokers can help increase their HDL levels. What's more, the change shows to occur rapidly after quitting.

And with tobacco identified as the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., there really is no better time to quit. Not only are you benefiting the health of your own body to live longer, but considering the health of others by reducing secondhand smoke.

10. Adopt A Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

A comprehensive heart-healthy lifestyle can lead to greater success for improving cholesterol levels and reducing the risks of heart disease and other health conditions.

Truly, a heart-healthy diet plan emphasizes whole grains, fruits and veggies, poultry, fish, and nuts. There is also encouragement to reduce intake of products rich in refined flours and sugars, as they can increase triglyceride levels and inflammation in the body.

A heart-healthy diet is also naturally low in sodium thanks to the promotion of fresh foods. Consulting with a doctor regarding sodium intake may also be beneficial.

Additional heart-healthy practices include, but are not limited to, regular exercise, smoke cessation, adequate sleep, and stress management.

Written By Christy Zagarella, MS, RDN. Published on January 23, 2019. Updated on August 06, 2019.

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