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 particles are heterogeneous. They can be classified as a larger, less dense HDL2 or a smaller, denser HDL3.  Normally, most of the plasma HDL is found in HDL3.  To add to the complexity of HDL classification, HDL is composed of 4 apolipoproteins per particle. HDL may be composed of apo A-I and apo A-II or of apo A-I alone. HDL2 is usually made up only of apo A-I, while HDL3 contains a combination of apo A-I and apo A-II. HDL particles that are less dense than HDL2 are rich in apo E.
The good news is that changing your cholesterol levels is well within your control as some of the smallest lifestyle tweaks can yield a profound impact. A fast track to boosting HDL includes quitting smoking and increasing physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 times per week with two sessions of resistance training. Your choices at mealtimes, however, may prove to be an easier more attainable way to make lasting change. Here are the foods that raise HDL cholesterol.
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.
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.
In randomly screened children aged 6-19 years who had age-, race-, and sex-specific total plasma cholesterol levels greater than or equal to 95th percentile levels, 7.8% of white males, 12.8% of white females, 25% of black males, and 17.2% of black females had hypercholesterolemia due to elevated high-density lipoprotein [HDL] cholesterol levels (but not due to elevated low-density lipoprotein [LDL] cholesterol levels) greater than age-, sex-, and race-specific 95th percentile levels. That is, they had HALP.
Black beans, kidney beans, lentils, oh my! All are rich in soluble fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the blood and moves it out of the body. Recent studies show eating 4.5 ounces of beans a day can reduce LDL levels by 5 percent. Try black bean burritos, or dip some veggies in hummus, which is made with chickpeas, for an afternoon snack. Or try this Caramelized Onion and White Bean Flatbread -- beans are so versatile, the possibilities are endless.
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.
Some companies sell supplements that they say can lower cholesterol. Researchers have studied many of these supplements, including red yeast rice, flaxseed, and garlic. At this time, there isn't conclusive evidence that any of them are effective in lowering cholesterol levels. Also, supplements may cause side effects and interactions with medicines. Always check with your health care provider before you take any supplements.
Niacin (vitamin B3) is believed to block cholesterol production in the body. Although niacin in prescription supplement form appears to be most effective in increasing HDL, it may have side effects such as flushing, itching, and headache, so you may want to consider adding niacin-containing foods to your diet first. Niacin is found in high concentrations in crimini mushrooms, chicken breast, halibut, tomato, romaine lettuce, enriched bread, and cereals.
For women after menopause, a study published in August 2016 in the journal Diabetes & Metabolism found that high intensity interval training (on a bicycle) led to better HDL cholesterol levels as well as significant weight loss. And a study published in May 2016 in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that obese men who engaged in aerobic interval training (running on a treadmill) or resistance training (with weights) just three days a week for 12 weeks had significantly increased HDL cholesterol when compared with obese men who did no training.
All cherries are delicious, but there's something extra special about this sour variety. "I love snacking on dried Montmorency tart cherries not only because they have a sour-sweet flavor, but because they also have fiber," Gorin says. "Plus, you get other heart-helping benefits, too. Anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant found in purple and dark red fruits and vegetables, may help decrease the risk of heart attack in women."