Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream attached to two different compounds called lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is commonly known as the “bad” cholesterol because it transports cholesterol from the liver throughout the body, and potentially allows it to be deposited in artery walls. HDL, known as the “good cholesterol,” picks up cholesterol from the blood and delivers it to cells that use it, or takes it back to the liver to be recycled or eliminated from the body.
There are tons of natural remedies out there for how to lower cholesterol levels, often promising quick results with next to no effort required on your part. But while it’s true that there are tons of options to keep cholesterol levels in check, it can actually be as simple as swapping out a few foods in your diet for healthier options, switching up your workout routine or adding a supplement or two into the mix.
Avoid trans-fatty acids. These heart-damaging fats can reduce HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and raise levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. The tip-off that trans-fatty acids are present in foods is the listing of “partially hydrogenated oil” on a food’s ingredient list. Trans-fats are found in many brands of margarine and in most heavily processed foods, as well as in snack foods such as chips, crackers and cookies, and in the oils used to cook fast-food French fries, doughnuts and movie popcorn.
Research shows that there isn't really a link between how much fat you eat and your risk of disease. The biggest influence on your risk is the type of fat you eat. Two unhealthy fats, including saturated and trans fats, increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood cholesterol and increase your risk of developing heart disease. However, two very different types of fat — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — do just the opposite. In fact, research shows that cutting back on saturated fat and replacing it with mono and polyunsaturated fats can help lower the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood.
Treatment of high cholesterol usually begins with lifestyle changes geared toward bringing levels down. These include losing weight if you’re overweight, and changing your diet to emphasize vegetables and fruits, fish, particularly cold water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel, herring and black cod that provide heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. If lifestyle changes don’t help or if you’re unable to make the changes your doctor recommends, cholesterol-lowering drugs may be prescribed. These include statins, which effectively lower LDL cholesterol; bile acid sequestrants that may be prescribed along with statins to lower LDL; nicotinic acid to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise HDL; drugs called fibrates that may be prescribed to lower cholesterol and may raise HDL; and a drug called Ezetimibe to lower LDL by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.
The good news is that changing your cholesterol levels is well within your control as some of the smallest lifestyle tweaks can yield a profound impact. A fast track to boosting HDL includes quitting smoking and increasing physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 times per week with two sessions of resistance training. Your choices at mealtimes, however, may prove to be an easier more attainable way to make lasting change. Here are the foods that raise HDL cholesterol.
8. Foods fortified with sterols and stanols. Sterols and stanols extracted from plants gum up the body's ability to absorb cholesterol from food. Companies are adding them to foods ranging from margarine and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate. They're also available as supplements. Getting 2 grams of plant sterols or stanols a day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%.
Eating walnuts regularly was linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, according to data from the Nurses' Health Study. Eating as little as one serving of these nuts each week can lower your chances of cardiovascular disease by up to 19%! Consider swapping walnuts for croutons in salads and soups; add ‘em to breakfast cereal or yogurt; or nosh on walnuts with fruit to reap the cholesterol-lowering benefits.
HDL is plasma’s smallest and densest lipoprotein. The major apolipoproteins of HDL are apo A-I and apo A-II, the alpha lipoproteins. An elevated concentration of apo A-I and apo A-II, known as hyperalphalipoproteinemia (HALP), is associated with a lower risk of CHD. Conversely, hypoalphalipoproteinemia increases the chances of CHD development.  HALP generally does not produce any unusual clinical features (although corneal opacity has been associated with the condition), and it should not be considered a disease entity but rather a fortuitous condition that can increase longevity because of the related decrease in CHD incidence. 
A desirable level of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is less than 100 mg/dL – the lower your LDL, the better in terms of heart disease risk. Levels between 139 and 150 mg/dL are borderline high and those between 160 to 189 mg/dL are considered high, while LDL levels above 190 mg/dL are classed as very high. According to the American Heart Association, the mean level of LDL cholesterol for American adults age 20 and older is 115.0 mg/dL.
Remember, some of the best ways to raise HDL cholesterol levels while simultaneously lowering LDL cholesterol include not smoking, exercising more, decreasing body weight, eating healthier fats, reducing refined carb intake, keeping alcohol consumption moderate, increasing niacin intake and watching your prescription drug use. Do these things and watch your HDL go up while your risk for heart disease and stroke goes down.
HDL levels below 40 mg/dL are associated with an increased risk of CAD, even in people whose total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels are normal. HDL levels between 40 and 60 mg/dL are considered "normal," and do not very much affect the risk of CAD one way or the other. However, HDL levels greater than 60 mg/dL are actually associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Stick to a Low-Carb Diet – Also known as a ketogenic diet, a low-carb diet can lead to several health benefits, including weight loss, reduced blood sugar levels, and, of course, an increase in your HDL cholesterol. This is great for those who suffer from diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or obesity, but in truth, anyone can benefit from this type of diet!
Pick Purple Produce – Did you know that eating purple-colored vegetables and fruits can potentially increase your HDL cholesterol? That’s because these specific foods contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have been shown to help fight inflammation and protect your cells from free radicals. When you can, fill up your plate with purple produce like eggplant, purple corn, red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, and black raspberries.
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No, carbohydrates are not the enemy to fitness goals. Plus, when it comes to heart health, oatmeal is a humble workhorse. One of the highest fiber-per-dollar foods on the market, oatmeal is an inexpensive and hearty addition to any breakfast time routine. While not raising HDL levels directly, oatmeal lowers total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels even more, according to an American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine review, which in turn increases your HDL levels as a percentage of total cholesterol. Make weekend brunch fun for the whole family by serving up an oatmeal bar concept with a wide array of toppings and mix-ins such as chia seeds and raspberries.
Could one of your current prescriptions be a cause of your low HDL levels? Possibly! Medications such as anabolic steroids, beta blockers, benzodiazepines and progestins can depress HDL levels. If you take any of these medications, I suggest talking to your doctor and considering if there is anything you can do that could take the place of your current prescription.