Population studies have shown that low levels of HDL cholesterol—less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women—increase the overall risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attacks. A person whose HDL level is lower than 35 mg/dL has eight times the risk of CAD as someone with an HDL level of 65 mg/dL. Experts have long thought that boosting HDL levels promotes heart health. But while low HDL is a strong and well-established risk factor for heart disease, the evidence for raising HDL remains uncertain. But experts agree that taking these heart healthy steps are still worthwhile.

Catapano AL, et al. 2016 ESC/EAS guidelines for the management of dyslipidaemias: The task for the management of dyslipidaemias of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and European Atherosclerosis Society (EAS) developed with the special contribution of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitaiton (EACPR). Atherosclerosis. 2016;253:281.

Besides putting your heart health at risk, sugar is also known to be one of the most significant contributors to metabolic syndrome. In fact, the recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines labeled sugar as a “nutrient of concern” and voiced recommendations for added sugars to not exceed greater than 10% of total daily calories. So, if your goal is to nip sugar in the bud and increase your HDL cholesterol levels, start by evaluating your libations.


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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.


A cup of tea does more than soothe on a stressful day. Both green and black tea can help lower cholesterol levels. Green tea is prepared from unfermented leaves and black tea from fully fermented leaves of the same plant. Researchers believe that catechins, a type of antioxidant found in tea, are responsible for its cholesterol-lowering effect. The more fermented the tea leaves, the lower the catechin content and the higher the caffeine content.
However, environmental factors also have a significant impact on HDL levels. Factors that elevate HDL concentrations include chronic alcoholism, treatment with oral estrogen replacement therapy, extensive aerobic exercise, and treatment with niacin, statins, or fibrates. [11, 12, 13] On the other hand, smoking reduces levels of HDL-C, while quitting smoking leads to a rise in the plasma HDL level.
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.
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.
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.

Besides putting your heart health at risk, sugar is also known to be one of the most significant contributors to metabolic syndrome. In fact, the recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines labeled sugar as a “nutrient of concern” and voiced recommendations for added sugars to not exceed greater than 10% of total daily calories. So, if your goal is to nip sugar in the bud and increase your HDL cholesterol levels, start by evaluating your libations.
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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.
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.

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.

Tree nuts, such as walnuts, pistachios and pecans, have been shown to lower both total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol. Nuts are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber and several vitamins and minerals that are good for heart health. Nuts also contain plant sterols, which are natural compounds that block the cholesterol you eat from entering your bloodstream. While nuts are awesome to eat, don't go crazy. Portion control is still important—there are 163 calories in just 1 ounce of almonds. Add a small handful to oatmeal, top toast with nut butter or make a DIY trail mix with dried fruit and nuts.
Weight Management. If you are overweight, losing weight can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol. This is especially important for people with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that includes high triglyceride levels, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and being overweight with a large waist measurement (more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women).
An under-valued element of bone and cardiovascular health is the role of Vitamin K2, which many individuals are unknowingly deficient in. Found in the Japanese breakfast delicacy “natto” (fermented soybeans), vitamin K2 not only helps remove calcium from the arteries and soft tissues to prevent atherosclerosis, but it also draws calcium into the bones to prevent the risk of fracture. Nattokinase, an enzyme found in natto, may help to increase HDL levels while lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, according to an Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition study.
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
“If your LDL levels are still too high after trying these 6 nutrition-based approaches, talk to your doctor about cholesterol-lowering medications like statins, but give these 6 tips your best shot,” encourages Dr. Danine Fruge, MD, ABFP, Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “The right eating plan, like Pritikin, can be powerfully beneficial – and there are no adverse side effects.”
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.
Fiber is your friend when cholesterol is the enemy, so reach for foods that are full of soluble fiber. Just be aware that fiber comes in different forms, with one called soluble fiber and the other known as insoluble fiber. While both are good for your heart, it’s soluble fiber that’s great for your cholesterol. In addition to making you feel full, soluble fiber can actually reduce the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs. According to the Mayo Clinic, eating at least five to 10 grams of soluble fiber each day can lower both your LDL and total cholesterol levels. So better fill up your kitchen, along your body, with fiber-filled foods.
The small HDL particles consist of the lipoprotein ApoA-1, without much cholesterol. Thus, the small HDL particles can be thought of as “empty” lipoproteins, that are on their way to scavenge excess cholesterol from the tissues. In contrast, the large HDL particles contain a lot of cholesterol. These particles have already done their scavenging work, and are just waiting to be taken back up by the liver.
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.
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.
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