There's no magical food to keep your heart healthy, but there are a lot of foods that can help—including these foods that help lower your cholesterol. In addition to cutting back on foods that can raise total cholesterol and getting enough exercise, make sure to eat more of these foods that improve your cholesterol profile by raising "good" HDL and/or lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol. These foods include some old standbys, such as oatmeal and fruit, plus a few surprising foods that can help lower cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

According to a study published in November 2015 in the journal Nature, a diet high in carbohydrates — like added sugar, white bread, cookies, and cakes — reduces HDL cholesterol levels, increasing the risk for metabolic disorders. Refined carbohydrates found in foods labeled “low-fat” make these just as bad as full-fat foods because the fat is often replaced with carbohydrates from added sugar and other starches.
Pasta and heart health together in one sentence seems to be an oxymoron, however with one small tweak spaghetti can become a cholesterol-busting meal. Instead of opting for white, refined noodles, choose the less-processed, vitamin-enriched counterpart: whole grain pasta. Barilla makes one that has 7 grams of fiber per serving, and — what’s more — none of the stress-fighting B-vitamins have been removed. A B vitamin known as niacin has been found to decrease LDL levels and increase HDL when taken in doses above your vitamin requirement, according to a guide to lowering your cholesterol by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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.

Hayek T, Chajek-Shaul T, Walsh A, Agellon LB, Moulin P, Tall AR, Breslow JL. An interaction between the human cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) and apolipoprotein A-I genes in transgenic mice results in a profound CETP-mediated depression of high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. J Clin Invest. 1992 Aug;90(2):505–510. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
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.
As defined by the US National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines, an HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) level of 60 mg/dL or greater is a negative (protective) risk factor. [3] On the other hand, a high-risk HDL-C level is described as being below 40 mg/dL. Randomized, controlled clinical trials have demonstrated that interventions to raise HDL-C levels are associated with reduced CHD events. A prospective analysis by Mora et al investigated the link between cholesterol and cardiovascular events in women and found that the baseline HDL-C level was consistently and inversely associated with incident coronary and coronary vascular disease events across a range of LDL-C values. [4]
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.
Heart-healthy eating. A heart-healthy eating plan limits the amount of saturated and trans fats that you eat. It recommends that you eat and drink only enough calories to stay at a healthy weight and avoid weight gain. It encourages you to choose a variety of nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Examples of eating plans that can lower your cholesterol include the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet and the DASH eating plan.
3. Beans. Beans are especially rich in soluble fiber. They also take awhile for the body to digest, meaning you feel full for longer after a meal. That's one reason beans are a useful food for folks trying to lose weight. With so many choices — from navy and kidney beans to lentils, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, and beyond — and so many ways to prepare them, beans are a very versatile food.
Plasma HDL is a small, spherical, dense lipid-protein complex that is half lipid and half protein. The lipid component consists of phospholipids, free cholesterol, cholesteryl esters, and triglycerides. The protein component includes apo A-I (molecular weight, 28,000) and apo A-II (molecular weight, 17,000). Other minor, but important, proteins are apo E and apo C, including apo C-I, apo C-II, and apo C-III.
Sugar and spice and everything nice… except for the fact that recent data has shown that added sugar is not so nice for our cardiovascular health or waistlines. In fact, a study published in Circulation found that people with the highest consumption of added sugars show significantly lower HDL levels. To cut back on your added sugar intake and increase HDL levels, consider replacing sugar with dates when you’re making baked goods like homemade granola bars, cookies, and cakes. It’s one way to slice total added sugars in half and will also give your sweet treat extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
A: Before I answer that question, why bother to increase HDL cholesterol at all? Many studies have found that people with low levels of HDL are at increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other complications of arteries diseased by atherosclerosis: that's why we call HDL the "good" cholesterol. Given that, you'd think that raising HDL levels would reduce a person's risk for atherosclerosis. Unfortunately, despite a lot of research, we don't yet know if that's true, nor how best to raise HDL levels.
Because increasing HDL levels is thought to be such a beneficial thing, and because there is no easy or reliable way to do so, developing drugs that substantially raise HDL levels has become a major goal for several pharmaceutical companies. And indeed, several of these drugs have been developed, and have led to clinical trials to demonstrate their safety and efficacy.
George T Griffing, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, American College of Medical Practice Executives, American Association for Physician Leadership, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, American Heart Association, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Endocrine Society
If you don’t already know your HDL level, you can find out from blood work that includes a lipid profile. This profile tells you your overall total cholesterol as well as its individual parts, including HDL and LDL. There are no obvious signs or symptoms of high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol so it’s very important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and get your cholesterol checked regularly!
The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends you take in 2 grams of plant sterols and stanols each day. The FDA allows an approved health claim on phytosterols stating, "Foods containing at least 0.65 gram per serving of vegetable oil plant sterol esters, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 1.3 grams, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."
Although your cholesterol levels are partially determined by your genetics, these tips above can help you increase your HDL levels naturally! Also, don’t forget to visit your doctor every few years to have your cholesterol checked and have a blood panel conducted. Your doctor can use this information to treat any early conditions you may have. After all, high cholesterol levels don’t show any symptoms!
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.

You've probably heard that fried foods of all kinds, hydrogenated oils, and full-fat dairy products are cholesterol bombs that are best avoided (and not just by those watching their cholesterol levels). The American Heart Association recommends that everyone restrict these foods, as they contain trans and saturated fats, the "bad" kind that raises LDL cholesterol and leads to plaque buildup in the arteries.
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