Cholesterol levels are a great measure of your cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, many people work towards lowering their “bad” cholesterol (LDL), while forgetting that there is “good” cholesterol (HDL) that needs to be raised.
When it comes to HDL, the higher the cholesterol the better! This may sound confusing to you, and that is why we are going to look closer at LDL and HDL, in addition to finding ways of boosting your “good” cholesterol levels.
The Two Types Of Cholesterol
For those who might be unclear about what cholesterol is, it is a substance found in our cells which works to build healthy body cells. As I mentioned above, there are two types of cholesterol in our body. These include:
Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL)
LDL carries cholesterol through our body, transporting it to cells in our organs and tissues. However, if our body has excess cholesterol, the extra cholesterol circulates aimlessly throughout our body until is eventually deposited within our vessel walls- this is called plaque.
This plaque narrows the blood vessels and eventually blocks blood flow, often resulting in coronary heart disease. It is small wonder why LDL cholesterol is nicknamed “bad” cholesterol.
High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL)
HDL works to pick up all the excess cholesterol circulating in our blood, eventually transporting these cholesterol particles to the liver where it is broken down. Therefore, the higher your HDL levels are the lower LDL cholesterol you will have in your blood. Thus it is referred to as the “good” cholesterol.
Ways To Raise HDL Cholesterol
The methods of raising HDL that I will outline below consist mainly of lifestyle changes. Changing even the smallest habits you have can have a dramatic effect on your HDL levels. Here are a few ways of boosting your HDL cholesterol:
- Quit smoking: While quitting smoking is difficult for many people, it can result in an increase of up to 10% in HDL cholesterol levels.
- Lose weight: For every 6 lbs of weight you lose, you can increase your HDL by 1 mg/dL. This means that by shedding off excess pounds you can dramatically improve your HDL level.
- Exercise more: Physical activity is great for increasing HDL cholesterol, and aerobic exercise in particular can lead to a 5% increase in HDL in just two months. If you walk, run, swim, cycle, do outdoor chores, and play sports for 30 minutes five times a week, expect great results.
- Drink a moderate amount of alcohol: Consuming alcohol in moderation has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol. Red wine in particular is recommended for everyone seeking to increase their HDL. Healthy men can drink two 5oz glasses of wine a day, while women can drink one. However, if you do not drink alcohol then do not feel pressured to follow this point.
- Consume Orange Juice: OJ contains flavanoid and hesperidin, and a recent study showed that consuming a few glasses of OJ a day for an entire month can increase your HDL by 21%. Tangerine juice can also be used as an alternative, but it should be taken with less frequency because it is high in calories.
- Boost your vitamin B: Two B vitamins have been shown to boost HDL, and these are niacin (B-3) and pantothenic acid (B-5). You can take these B vitamins in supplement form; however you should consult with your doctor because they have side effects.
- Take medication: Apart from the B vitamin supplements talked above, you can consider taking fibrates and statins which have been shown to raise HDL levels.
- Choose a healthy fat diet: A healthy diet consists of some fat, but this fat should be limited. You should avoid foods that are composed of saturated and trans fats, as they raise LDL cholesterol which in turn damages your blood vessels. In fact, saturated fats should make up less than 7% of your daily calories.
Instead your fat intake should come from mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, as they have been shown to improve the anti-inflammatory abilities of HDL. Foods that contain these healthy fats include olives, canola oils, nuts (walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds), peanuts, fish, seeds (flaxseed and flaxseed oils), and cheese.
- Eat fatty fish: In a continuation from the point above, fatty fish like salmon have been shown to increase HDL levels. By consuming fatty fish and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids once or twice every week, you can improve your HDL.
- Cut down on sugar: The more calories resulting from sugar, the lower HDL levels you will have. Therefore if you cut down on high-sugar foods so that they account for less than 5% of your calories, you can increase your “good” cholesterol.
- Eat whole grains: Fiber-rich whole grains like oat bran, oatmeal, and whole wheat products have been shown to boost HDL levels.
- Eat more dark chocolate: Moderate amounts of dark chocolate (1.5oz daily) improve the anti-oxidant properties of HDL.
- Eat red and purple veggies and fruits: Red and purple fruits and veggies have been shown to raise HDL and lower LDL. These include plums, purple cabbage, grapes, raspberries, eggplant, and apples.
With this information you can start implementing the lifestyle changes that will see you increasing your HDL levels in the months to come. Good luck on this journey!