As you already know, HDL is considered the good guy in the cholesterol game, and it can help your liver to get rid of the unhelpful cholesterol in your body. This is a very important task that HDL is able to accomplish since cholesterol can’t simply dissolve into the blood. The liver has the job of processing cholesterol among its other important jobs. HDL is the liver’s helper and a very good one at that. Having high levels of HDL reduces your risk for both heart disease and stroke, which is why you want to get your cholesterol under control. (10)
First, a quick explainer: Cholesterol is a waxy substance that travels through your bloodstream, but not all of it is bad. HDL cholesterol (a.k.a. "good" cholesterol) actually sweeps away LDL cholesterol, or the "bad" kind. A high LDL level puts you at risk for heart attacks and strokes because it can clog arteries with plaque, a condition called atherosclerosis. A blood test can determine whether you have high cholesterol, and your doctor may recommend exercise or medication in addition to a healthier diet.
Fatty Fish Are Your Friends – Omega-3 fats present in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies give your heart major benefits, including a reduction in inflammation and increased functioning of the vital cells that line your arteries. Eating fatty fish or taking fish oil can also help increase your HDL cholesterol levels, so choose to dine on fish frequently to keep your heart healthy and happy!
When it comes to cholesterol, not all types are created equal, and it is important to understand how lifestyle choices significantly impact cardiovascular health. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as the “healthy” or “good” type of cholesterol due to the fact that it scavenges and removes the “bad” type of cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) known to clog arteries. A desirable HDL level is anything greater than 60 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
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!
If you’re one of the 73.5 million Americans who have unhealthy cholesterol levels, heart-healthy lifestyle changes are important ways to improve your cholesterol and prevent it from getting progressively worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than half of people with high LDL cholesterol (the type of cholesterol that puts you at risk for heart disease) are getting treated, and not even one in three have their high cholesterol under control.
As a result of all this, doctors don’t just want you to lower your total cholesterol count; they want you to change the ratio as well, so you have more HDL and less LDL. “When we looked at the data, we found that the higher your HDL went, the lower your risk of heart attack,” says cardiologist William Castelli, M.D., former director of the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts. An HDL level of 75 or more seems to convey extra longevity for many people, while a count of 100 or more is so beneficial that it was dubbed the “Methuselah syndrome” by one researcher. HDL less than 35 or so, meanwhile, can carry significant risk of heart disease. Genetics plays a large role in HDL. A few guys have naturally low levels and need to keep their LDL low as well to make up for it. (As Castelli puts it, you don’t need a substance that removes cholesterol from your blood if you don’t have much to begin with.) But there’s plenty that everyone else can do to pump up their HDL. Never one to shirk from a task that doesn’t involve housecleaning, I managed to find two handfuls of ways to turn my “good” numbers into great numbers.
Flavor foods with herbs and spices whenever you can. It’ll help you cut back on condiments high in saturated fat while maximizing flavor. Spices and herbs also pack antioxidants, which can help improve cholesterol levels when combined with veggies. Ones we love: Basil, cilantro, rosemary, sage, ginger, garlic, tarragon, black and red chili pepper, mint, and oregano.
If you skip breakfast, you might want to give the most important meal of the day another shot. Women who eat a bowl of fiber-rich cereal every morning have lower levels of cholesterol than those who don't eat breakfast at all. It's all thanks to the fiber: "Fiber binds with cholesterol and speeds its excretion before it reaches your arteries," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD.
HDL particles are thought to scour excess cholesterol from the walls of the blood vessels, thus removing it from where it can contribute to atherosclerosis. The HDL carries this excess cholesterol to the liver, where it can be processed. So, high levels of HDL cholesterol imply that a lot of excess cholesterol is being removed from blood vessels. That seems like a good thing.
If you smoke, it’s time to pack it in. According to the American Heart Association, smoking reduces your HDL cholesterol levels, while increasing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you’re a smoker, you need to quit. Once you stop smoking, you can significantly improve your HDL cholesterol level very quickly and start protecting your heart. And if you’re a non-smoker, you need to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke to prevent your health from going up in smoke.