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Cholesterol

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

10 Foods to Increase Good Cholesterol

While high cholesterol is a major health concern, it is an integral component of normal body processes when balanced in the body. And these 10 foods for good cholesterol can help lower the risk of heart disease and improve overall health.

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Though high cholesterol is a major health concern relative to its contribution for heart disease, let it be known cholesterol is an integral component of normal body processes.

Without cholesterol, important hormones would not be produced, vitamin D maintenance could be compromised, and the absorption of fat would be reduced.

But to benefit overall health, there needs to be a right balance of cholesterol, particularly with elevated levels of that "good" cholesterol.

Fortunately, there are foods for good cholesterol that help lower the risk of heart disease.

What is HDL Cholesterol?

Also known as "good" cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is a unit consisting of a cholesterol center and lipoprotein outer rim. Lipoproteins are assemblies of proteins and lipids, acting as transporters to carry cholesterol in the bloodstream.

Increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol in the blood contributes to plaque build-up and has the potential to clog and harden blood arteries.

But when HDL is present in the blood, it helps remove LDL cholesterol by carrying it away from the arteries and back 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, and an HDL cholesterol level is 60 mg/dL or higher is recommended.

If finding personal numbers are not meeting recommendations, there are a number of lifestyle factors that can help increase HDL, including these 10 good foods for cholesterol.

10 Foods to Increase HDL Cholesterol

1. Avocados

Whereas most fruits are rich in natural sugar, avocados are predominately high in monounsaturated fat which makes it a good cholesterol food.

Late and present day research shows a monounsaturated fatty acid, avocado-rich is capable of increasing HDL levels.

Avocado has versatile use in the kitchen and can be enjoyed as a snack, spread onto a whole grain slice of toast, blended into smoothies, topped onto salads, mixed into dressings, and baked into muffins, and creamed into ice creams and mousses.

2. Fatty Fish

Anchovy, tuna, herring, rainbow trout, halibut, and other fatty fish are natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat shown to lower inflammation in the body and protect from heart disease.

And when compared to omega-3 supplementation, the consumption of fresh fish seems to be superior in positively modifying the lipid profiles, increasing HDL included.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the general population to consume at least two servings of fish, particularly fatty fish, each week.

However, children and pregnant women are warned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to avoid fish high in mercury contamination (including shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish), eat up to 12 ounces per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury (such as canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish); and check local advisories about the safety of fish.

A healthcare provider can also help direct recommendations regarding safe fish intake.

3. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are a plant-based source of omega fatty acids, which offers much benefit for those limiting or avoiding fatty fish for whatever reason.

Flaxseeds also provide fiber, B vitamins, and other valuable vitamins and minerals. Include flaxseed in the diet by adding a tablespoon to breakfast cereals, yogurts, muffins, and breads.

4. Vegetable Oils

Unlike butters, margarines, and coconut oils, vegetable oils are rich in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

In food preparation, opt for vegetable oils such as olive, canola, and walnut oils. There is also some evidence showing pumpkin seed oil significantly increased HDL cholesterol.

5. Peanuts and Peanut Butter

Peanuts are a rich source of monounsaturated fat and their consumption shows to improve HDL levels.

Peanut butter can also be a beneficial source. But when choosing a nut butter, do not let "natural" and "organic" fool you into thinking the product is "healthy," as they are commonly filled with added oils, sugar, and salt.

To avoid unnecessary additives, utilize the ingredients label and stay clear from words such as "palm oil" and "corn syrup." To illustrate, the ingredients on a peanut butter jar should feature peanuts and maybe a little added salt.

6. Nuts

Nuts are valuable sources of healthy fats, along with supplying fiber and plant sterols shown to block the absorption of cholesterol.

Almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, and brazil nuts are good foods for cholesterol management.

However, while nuts are chockfull of beneficial nutrients, they are calorically dense. To keep fat and calorie content in check, opt for an ounce (about ¼ cup or palmful) of nuts daily.

7. High-Fiber Fruits and Veggies

There is evidence showing a relationship between increased dietary fiber intakes and increases of HDL cholesterol.

Veggies are naturally low in calorie and high in fiber, especially when choosing leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and other non-starchy options. Aim for at least three servings per day.

Fruits rich in fiber are also advised over fresh fruit juice and dried fruits, as they supply a large amount of fructose sugar and can increase triglyceride and blood sugar levels. Include two servings of apples, pears, berries, dates, or other high-fiber fruits in a balanced diet.

8. Soy

Soy is an excellent meat substitute to lower fat intake while granting plant-based protein. A study indicates soy products are beneficial in improving cholesterol levels, including increasing HDL cholesterol.

When choosing soy-based foods, opt for more wholesome options including tofu, tempeh, and edamame, rather than veggie burgers, nuggets, and other texturized soy products.

9. Oats

Oats contain a fiber component known as beta-glucan, which is a form of soluble fiber. Research published in the American Journal of Therapeutics shows 6 grams of beta-glucan from oats not only increases HDL levels, but reduces total cholesterol and weight.

In addition to oats, barley, wheat, and other whole grains can help improve cholesterol levels. Aim for three to five servings of whole grains daily.

10. Red Wine

Reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, moderate red wine consumption for 4 weeks is associated with desirable changes in HDL. However, it is important to stress moderate red wine, as too much can lead to detrimental health effects.

Men should limit alcohol consumption to two servings per day while women should limit to one serving. Servings include 12 ounces of regular or light beer, 5 ounces of red or white wine, and 1 and a half ounces of liquor.

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on April 14, 2016. Updated on January 23, 2019.

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