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.
Trans fats are a byproduct of the chemical reaction that turns liquid vegetable oil into solid margarine or shortening and that prevents liquid vegetable oils from turning rancid. These fats have no nutritional value — and we know for certain they are bad for heart health. Trans fats increase LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels while reducing levels of HDL cholesterol.

Trans fatty acids are likely present in many of your favorite prepared foods— anything in which the nutrition label reads "partially hydrogenated vegetable oils" — so eliminating them from the diet is not a trivial task. But trans fatty acids not only increase LDL cholesterol levels, but they also reduce HDL cholesterol levels. Removing them from your diet will almost certainly result in a measurable increase in HDL levels. 


When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, the LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called “plaque.” As your blood vessels build up plaque over time, the insides of the vessels narrow. This narrowing blocks blood flow to and from your heart and other organs. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.
An easy way to make the switch from trans fats is by replacing them with unsaturated fats, which don’t increase your LDL cholesterol, according to WebMD. Unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, vegetable and sunflower oils, as well as fish, nuts, seeds and avocados. Just as unsaturated fats are healthy choices, unsaturated fats are not. Be sure to limit your intake of unsaturated fats, which are found in fatty meats, cold cuts, whole milk, whole-milk cheeses and many store-bought baked goods and snacks. Instead, enjoy lean cuts of meat, skim milk, low-fat cheeses and yogurt, and wholesome snacks to trim down your cholesterol levels. 
Many people don't like to hear it, but regular aerobic exercise (any exercise, such as walking, jogging or bike riding, that raises your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes at a time) may be the most effective way to increase HDL levels. Recent evidence suggests that the duration of exercise, rather than the intensity, is the more important factor in raising HDL cholesterol. But any aerobic exercise helps.
Coronary heart disease: What you need to know The coronary arteries supply oxygen and blood to the heart. They can narrow, often because cholesterol accumulates on the arteries’ walls. This results in coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease in the U.S. Here, learn about risk factors, early warning signs, means of prevention, and treatments. Read now
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.
Substantial evidence now shows that a low-fat diet often reduces — rather than increases — HDL levels. This result is not specifically caused by “not enough fat,” but rather, is caused by consuming too many carbohydrates. The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have quietly stopped recommending low-fat diets for heart disease prevention. Indeed, it is low-carb diets — and not low-fat diets — which are associated with higher HDL levels.
More long-term studies are needed in order to determine whether or not it is the actual loss of weight or the diet and exercise that go along with it that causes the reduction in LDL levels. It is also possible that LDL cholesterol can eventually return to original levels, even when weight loss is maintained. Nonetheless, the prospect makes weight maintenance and good nutrition worthy goals to have.
Barley contains a powerful type of soluble fiber that helps keep cholesterol levels in check by effectively lowering total and LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL. This beta-glucan fiber works by preventing the body's absorption of cholesterol from food. Look for minimally processed pearled barley, the variety most commonly found in supermarkets.
How does that song go? "Beans, beans, they're good for your heart"? Well...those lyrics get it right! Beans are packed with cholesterol-busting soluble fiber, but that's not their only benefit. Beans are high in protein, which makes them a heart-healthy replacement for some animal protein sources, such as meat. For the biggest cholesterol-lowering benefits, add beans to chili, tacos and burritos (either in place of or in addition to meat). They're also great in soups and salads.
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One drawback of going on a low-fat diet for some people is that it lowers HDL levels. If raising your HDL cholesterol is a primary concern, you should replace carbohydrates in your diet with fats, preferably mono- and polyunsaturated fats. But avoid trans fat, which can lower HDL levels. These steps can lower both total cholesterol and LDL and maintain HDL or boost it slightly, improving the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL.

Filled with plant-based antioxidants and minerals, this protein-packed dairy alternative can help improve your lipid levels. That’s because it’s lower in saturated fat than other vegan swaps (ahem, coconut oil). Unsweetened versions cut back on sneaky sources of added sugar often found in beverages, so use it in your morning latte for a cholesterol-lowering caffeine boost.

If you’re getting worked up over high cholesterol, then start working out. Daily exercise can help raise your HDL cholesterol levels and reduce your LDL cholesterol, while protecting you from many health conditions. Begin by choosing an activity that sounds like fun to avoid “workout burn-out.” Consider jogging, brisk walking, cycling, tennis, swimming or hitting the gym. Find an exercise partner to make the activity more enjoyable and help you stay on track. And while exercise can lower your cholesterol, it can also reduce your stress and anxiety. So working up a sweat can also save you from sweating the small stuff.


Can my HDL be too high? It is well known that not all cholesterol is bad for you. Of HDL and LDL cholesterol, HDL packs some great benefits. This MNT Knowledge Center article examines when high HDL cholesterol is good, and whether higher is always better? Learn how to find the right balance along with some healthful ways to achieve high HDL. Read now
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!

Nordestgaard BG, Langsted A, Mora S, et al. Fasting is not routinely required for determination of a lipid profile: clinical and laboratory implications including flagging at desirable concentration cut-points-a joint consensus statement from the European Atherosclerosis Society and European Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine. Eur Heart J. 2016 Jul 1. 37 (25):1944-58. [Medline]. [Full Text].
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.
Furthermore, in epidemiological studies involving over 100,000 individuals, people whose HDL cholesterol levels are below about 40 mg/dL had a substantially higher cardiac risk than those with higher HDL levels. This is the case even when LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) levels are low. Higher HDL levels have also been associated with a reduced risk of breast, colon and lung cancer.
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.
Lentils are pulses, a.k.a. the dry edible seeds of certain crops (like beans, chickpeas, and peas). Pulses are just everywhere these days because they’re packed with plant-based protein and fiber, not to mention antioxidants, minerals, and B vitamins. All of those compounds help protect you from plaque buildup while optimizing blood flow and assisting your body in efficiently using the nutrients you consume.
To maintain a healthy body, you should exercise on a daily basis. If you want another specific reason to start exercising or increase your frequency of exercise, it’s your HDL levels. Increased physical activity directly helps raise your HDL cholesterol — just another one of the many benefits of exercise. Vigorous exercise is the best choice for boosting HDL, but any additional exercise is better than none. (2)
Coronary heart disease: What you need to know The coronary arteries supply oxygen and blood to the heart. They can narrow, often because cholesterol accumulates on the arteries’ walls. This results in coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease in the U.S. Here, learn about risk factors, early warning signs, means of prevention, and treatments. Read now

How does that song go? "Beans, beans, they're good for your heart"? Well...those lyrics get it right! Beans are packed with cholesterol-busting soluble fiber, but that's not their only benefit. Beans are high in protein, which makes them a heart-healthy replacement for some animal protein sources, such as meat. For the biggest cholesterol-lowering benefits, add beans to chili, tacos and burritos (either in place of or in addition to meat). They're also great in soups and salads.
Oatmeal is one of the best cholesterol-fighting foods because it is so high in beta-glucans, the soluble fibers that cause oats to bulk up in liquid when you make oatmeal. Soluble fiber lowers your LDL, or "bad," cholesterol by forming a sticky layer in the small intestine that blocks cholesterol from entering your bloodstream. Make oatmeal and skip the instant packs with lots of added sugar. (In a rush? See our picks for best instant oatmeals.) Add fruit to your oatmeal to naturally sweeten it and boost the soluble fiber content even more.

Once you know your cholesterol levels, it’s time to discuss a plan with your doctor. Although changing your lifestyle to include a heart-healthy diet and plenty of exercise is usually the first step to lower cholesterol, some types of cholesterol problems like familial hypercholesterolemia may require medication right away. Work with your doctor to come up with the best cholesterol goals for you and the best ways to get there.

Swap extra-virgin olive oil for all your other oils and fats when cooking at low temperatures, since extra-virgin olive oil breaks down at high temperatures. Use the oil in salad dressings, sauces, and to flavor foods once they’re cooked. Sprinkle chopped olives on salads or add them to soups, like in this Sicilian fish soup. Just be sure to use extra-virgin olive oil in moderation, since it’s high in calories.
Fish can be fatty or lean, but it’s still low in saturated fat. Eat at least 8 ounces of non-fried fish each week, which may be divided over two 3.5- to 4-ounce servings. Choose oily fish such as salmon, trout and herring, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Prepare fish baked, broiled, grilled or boiled rather than breaded and fried, and without added salt, saturated fat or trans fat. Non-fried fish and shellfish, such as shrimp, crab and lobster, are low in saturated fat and are a healthy alternative to many cuts of meat and poultry.
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.
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