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.
Total cholesterol is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, which includes HDL, LDL and triglycerides. However, total cholesterol is mainly made up of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Having high levels of low-density lipoprotein or LDL can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, increasing your likelihood for heart disease and stroke. LDL also raises your risk for a condition called peripheral artery disease, which can develop when plaque buildup narrows an artery supplying blood to the legs. The good news is that the higher your HDL level, the lower your body’s LDL level or “bad” cholesterol.
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.
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.
HDL is plasma’s smallest and densest lipoprotein. The major apolipoproteins of HDL are apo A-I and apo A-II, the alpha lipoproteins. An elevated concentration of apo A-I and apo A-II, known as hyperalphalipoproteinemia (HALP), is associated with a lower risk of CHD. Conversely, hypoalphalipoproteinemia increases the chances of CHD development. [2] HALP generally does not produce any unusual clinical features (although corneal opacity has been associated with the condition), and it should not be considered a disease entity but rather a fortuitous condition that can increase longevity because of the related decrease in CHD incidence. [9]
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.

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%.
While the world of wellness endlessly touts of benefits of anti-inflammatory foods, who knew eating these could kill two birds with one stone by also improving your cholesterol? Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, the phytochemical that gives this berry its dark blue pigment and are essential to overall heart health through enhancing anti-inflammatory pathways as well as increasing HDL cholesterol levels, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. One 2013 study found that consuming blueberries in tandem with exercise can increase HDL levels even more than exercise alone.
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]
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There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble (viscous) and insoluble. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of all high-fiber foods. Refined foods, like white bread, white pasta and enriched cereals are low in fiber. The refining process strips the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which reduces the amount of fiber that's left.

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. 
I just moved and had to go to a new doctor. At my first annual exam and lipid panel, she called me back for a consult because she wanted to put me on a statin due to “high” ldl cholestoral levels. I am female, 54, height 5’4” and weigh 130 lbs. My ldl was 123 – my triglycerides were 58. My hdl was 68. I had basically the same lipid panel 2 years ago at my last annual exam (before moving) and my doc there was not concerned other than suggesting I start a CoQ10 and Omega 3 regimen. I don’t smoke, I exercise at least 45 minutes a day (running, cycling, golf, walking, etc.) – my major weakness is sweets. Plus no heart disease in immediate family (both parents still alive at 79 & 80 – no history of stroke, etc.)
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?!

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.
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