Part of the “French paradox”-lower heart-disease rates in butter-and-cream-feasting France-may stem from the HDL benefits of wine consumption. For some people, however, alcohol causes more troubles than it cures. “Men should limit themselves to one or two drinks a day,” Willett says. “After that, you start worrying about adverse consequences.” While any alcoholic beverage will do, the antioxidants in red wine or dark beer may give you an added benefit.

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.


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.
But keep in mind that not all cholesterol is created equally. LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad cholesterol,” is the form that can build up on the artery walls and increase your risk of heart disease. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is often dubbed “good cholesterol” because it travels through the bloodstream, removing harmful cholesterol from the arteries to help enhance heart health.
If you want to increase the benefits of the fats you eat, work out before you chow down. A study at the University of Missouri found that regular exercise prior to high-fat meals produces a large hike in HDL. I’m not suggesting that your excuse for indulging in high-fat meals ought to be a pre-meal workout, merely that exercise before a meal works to your heart’s advantage.

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.

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.
Barley, oatmeal and brown rice have lots of soluble fiber, which has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol by reducing the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Try switching out your regular pasta for the whole-grain version, or use brown rice instead of white. To give an added cholesterol-busting kick, top your morning oatmeal with high-fiber fruit like bananas or apples. 

Are you pouring up a glass of OJ in the morning? Is your daily caffeine fix a fountain coke at the local gas station? What about that fruity cocktail tempting you at happy hour? Eliminating sweetened beverages from the daily routine is one of the easiest ways to cut thousands of calories or more per week, but will also put years on your life. Water is the best form of hydration and can be flavored with citrus, tropical fruits, and herbs to create a refreshing spa-like oasis that will increase HDL levels when it replaces your typical sugar-sweetened beverages.
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.
Too much cholesterol in the blood builds up on artery walls causing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). The buildup of cholesterol narrows arteries, slowing or blocking the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to the heart, which can manifest as chest pain. If blood flow to the heart is cut off because of clogged arteries, the result is damage to the heart muscle – a heart attack.

With apologies to the American Heart Association, which discourages doctors from telling their patients about the advantages of alcohol: one or two drinks per day can significantly increase HDL levels. More than one or two drinks per day, one hastens to add, can lead to substantial health problems including heart failure. And unfortunately, there are many people who are simply incapable of limiting their alcohol intake to one or two drinks per day. Here's more on alcohol and the heart.
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.

Garlic packs a serious health punch. Some people love the flavor and others have been using it as a kitchen cure to boost immunity and promote heart health for years. Recent research has backed garlic's health benefits, especially for your heart. Garlic, along with garlic extract, has been shown to lower cholesterol, possibly by preventing cholesterol from being made in the liver. Plus, eating garlic may also help lower blood pressure. Give your heart a boost and add garlic to your sauces, salad dressings and stir-fries.
LDL stands for Low-Density Lipoproteins. This type of cholesterol is produced by the liver and is instrumental in the creation of cell walls, hormones, and digestive juices. However, when your LDL level is high, it can start to form a plaque-like substance on the walls of your cardiovascular system, blocking the natural flow of blood and leaving you at severe risk for heart attack and stroke. Put simply, LDL is the bad kind of cholesterol. But fear not – there are several ways in which you can lower your LDL cholesterol and encourage the development of High-Density Lipoproteins (good cholesterol), which actually function to limit the level of LDL cholesterol in your system.
Aside from the inconvenience of taking niacin, two recent, highly-anticipated clinical trials have suggested that raising HDL levels with niacin failed to demonstrate any improvement in cardiovascular outcomes. Furthermore, treatment with niacin was associated with an increased risk of stroke and increased diabetic complications. At this point, most doctors are very reluctant to prescribe niacin therapy for the purpose of raising HDL levels.

Ask for tomato sauce with your pasta if you want to keep your cholesterol under control. Tomatoes are a significant source of a plant compound called lycopene, which reduces levels of LDL cholesterol. Research shows that the body absorbs more lycopene if the tomatoes are processed or cooked, so drink tomato juice and add tomatoes to your minestrone soup as well.
While this belief is still thought to be almost always true, in recent years a fly has been found in the ointment. Drug companies have spent billions of dollars developing drugs that increase HDL cholesterol levels. However, to the dismay of all, these drugs have failed to reduce cardiac risk—despite the fact that they make HDL levels go up. Development of at least two of these drugs has now been halted. (More on this below.) So the HDL story is more complex than scientists originally had hoped.
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.

Too much cholesterol in the blood builds up on artery walls causing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). The buildup of cholesterol narrows arteries, slowing or blocking the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to the heart, which can manifest as chest pain. If blood flow to the heart is cut off because of clogged arteries, the result is damage to the heart muscle – a heart attack.


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.

Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation. Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL. And some contain plant sterols and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.
Resistance training is a form of physical activity that forces your muscles to contract, building up strength and endurance. Some research also shows that resistance training could have beneficial effects on heart health as well and may decrease total and LDL cholesterol. (31) Weight lifting and bodyweight exercises like squats or lunges are some examples of resistance training that you can add to your routine.
HDL is actually more complex than we once thought. Rather than being a single kind of particle, HDL is is now considered a family of different particles. All HDL contains lipids (fats), cholesterol and proteins (called apolipoproteins), but some types of HDL are spherical while others are shaped like a doughnut. Some HDL types remove bad cholesterol from the blood while other types are indifferent to cholesterol. Or even worse, some HDL transfers cholesterol the wrong way (into LDL and cells) or protects LDL in a way that makes it more harmful to the arteries.
It’s harder to increase HDL or "good" cholesterol than it is to lower LDL or total cholesterol. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of the variation in HDL from person to person is due to genetic factors. But the following steps have been shown to boost HDL—and they are worth taking because they also lower total cholesterol and help protect the heart in many ways beyond their effect on HDL.
In humans, diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol raise HDL-cholesterol (HDL-C) levels. To explore the mechanism, we have devised a mouse model that mimics the human situation. In this model, HuAITg and control mice were studied on low fat (9% cal)-low cholesterol (57 mg/1,000 kcal) (chow) and high fat (41% cal)-high cholesterol (437 mg/1,000 kcal) (milk-fat based) diets. The mice responded to increased dietary fat by increasing both HDL-C and apo A-I levels, with a greater increase in HDL-C levels. This was compatible with an increase in HDL size observed by nondenaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. Turnover studies with doubly labeled HDL showed that dietary fat both increase the transport rate (TR) and decreased the fractional catabolic rate of HDL cholesterol ester (CE) and apo A-I, with the largest effect on HDL CE TR. The latter suggested that dietary fat increases reverse cholesterol transport through the HDL pathway, perhaps as an adaptation to the metabolic load of a high fat diet. The increase in apo A-I TR by dietary fat was confirmed by experiments showing increased apo A-I secretion from primary hepatocytes isolated from animals on the high fat diet. The increased apo A-I production was not associated with any increase in hepatic or intestinal apo A-I mRNA, suggesting that the mechanism of the dietary fat effect was posttranscriptional, involving either increased translatability of the apo A-I mRNA or less intracellular apo A-I degradation. The dietary fat-induced decrease in HDL CE and apo A-I fractional catabolic rate may have been caused by the increase in HDL particle size, as was suggested by our previous studies in humans. In summary, a mouse model has been developed and experiments performed to better understand the paradoxical HDL-raising effect of a high fat diet.

DISCLAIMER: This site provides materials for information and education only. It is not to be considered medical advice. We encourage you to contact your physician for any of the health issues discussed here. The field of medicine changes on a regular basis; therefore, we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided on this site, nor do we guarantee that the information represents the most currently accepted standards... read full disclaimer.

Ask for tomato sauce with your pasta if you want to keep your cholesterol under control. Tomatoes are a significant source of a plant compound called lycopene, which reduces levels of LDL cholesterol. Research shows that the body absorbs more lycopene if the tomatoes are processed or cooked, so drink tomato juice and add tomatoes to your minestrone soup as well.


Beans and legumes of all kinds are known to be an asset to a heart-healthy diet pattern because they’re rich in a type of fiber—soluble fiber—which helps to block cholesterol from being absorbed through the intestines into the blood stream. By increasing your intake of beans, like chickpeas, you can decrease LDL levels, which results in a higher percentage of HDL cholesterol. You can blend chickpeas with garlic, tahini, and lemon juice to make the perfect homemade hummus, or mix them with peanut butter and dark chocolate to make a decadent, high protein, edible cookie dough! Blogger Chocolate Covered Kate has a great recipe.
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]
Part of the “French paradox”-lower heart-disease rates in butter-and-cream-feasting France-may stem from the HDL benefits of wine consumption. For some people, however, alcohol causes more troubles than it cures. “Men should limit themselves to one or two drinks a day,” Willett says. “After that, you start worrying about adverse consequences.” While any alcoholic beverage will do, the antioxidants in red wine or dark beer may give you an added benefit.
This healthy recipe pairs well with just about anything -- salmon, chicken, or game meat like bison and venison. It's also a superb go-to for quick-fix lunches or snacks. Ladle some into whole-wheat tortillas stuffed with crunchy veggies. Pour a cup or two into some chicken or vegetable stock for an easy soup. Or blend a big scoop of your beans and rice with a big bowl of lettuce greens and sliced tomatoes for a filling lunch salad.
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.
Ground-breaking research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) studied nearly 9,000 European patients. All had previously suffered heart attacks. The trial found that those who reduced their LDL levels to an average 81 with high-dose statins significantly reduced their risk of major coronary events like heart attacks and strokes at the 4.8 year follow-up compared to patients who reduced their LDL to 104 on usual-dose statin therapy.
Trans fats increase your LDL cholesterol, reduce your HDL levels and raise your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Trans fats lurk in fried foods, stick margarine, cookies, crackers, cakes, pie crusts and frozen pizza. Today, some food manufacturers are removing them from their products, but the only way to tell if a product is trans fat-free is to read labels while you’re shopping. Avoid products that list “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients, since this is just a sneaky name for trans fats.
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%.

Not all oils are created equal when it comes to your heart health. Olive oil and soybean oil are mainly unsaturated fat, which can lower LDL cholesterol and at the same time increase HDL cholesterol. In a study published in July 2015 in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that including olive oil in the diet decreased LDL concentrations in healthy young men.

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!


Typically, a fasting plasma lipid profile is ordered to measure LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Lipids in plasma and in isolated lipoprotein fractions are quantified by enzymatic methods. Prior consumption of food has little effect on the determination of HDL, with postprandial blood samples usually yielding results that can be well interpreted. [14, 2] Current clinically available techniques can determine the cholesterol content, but not the biologic function, of HDL particles. [2]
As if we needed another excuse to grab a second scoop of guac at the tailgate? Avocados are the poster child for the heart-healthy diet due to their rich abundance of monounsaturated fat, high fiber, and potassium. Monounsaturated fats from avocados, in particular, have been connected to an increase of HDL cholesterol and decreases of total cholesterol, LDL particles, and triglycerides, as shown in an Archives of Medical Research study. These can even be substituted for heart-harmful hydrogenated oils in baked goods as the fruit yields the same creamy texture and mouthfeel. Avocado brownies anyone?!
HDL plays an important role in transporting cholesterol from the peripheral tissues to the liver, where it can be excreted; this process is known as reverse cholesterol transport (RCT). (The liver is the main organ for excretion of cholesterol, doing so either directly or by converting cholesterol into bile acids.) It is important to remember that most HDL measured in the blood is derived from the liver and intestine. Therefore, the concentration of HDL in plasma does not reflect cholesterol efflux from blood vessels or the efficiency of RCT. Moreover, HDL function in RCT is not mirrored by HDL measurements. [2]
In fact, moderate alcohol consumption has actually been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol. (6) Moderate consumption for healthy adults is one alcoholic drink per day for women of all ages and men over 65 and up to two drinks per day for mean 65 and under. Organic red wine is a smart choice, but don’t start drinking just to improve HDL levels because overdoing does much more harm than good — both for cholesterol levels and your overall health.
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
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