HDL has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and it is linked to a decreased risk of heart disease. Most heart specialists suggest the minimum blood HDL levels be 40 mg/dl in men and 50 mg/dl in women. While genetics surely play a role, there are numerous other determinants that affect HDL levels.
Here are 9 healthy steps to raise your “good” HDL cholesterol.
1. Use olive oil
Olive oil is one of the wholesome fats available in the market today. Extra virgin olive oil is more beneficial than processed olive oil.
An extensive review of 42 studies with more than 800,000 members found that olive oil was the only source of monounsaturated fat that decreases the risk of heart diseases. The study has also revealed that one of the olive oil’s heart-healthy effects is an increase in HDL cholesterol. This consequence is thought to be caused by antioxidants in the olive oil called polyphenols. Extra virgin olive oil has more polyphenols than other processed oils, although the quantity can still vary among different types and labels. One research gave 200 healthy young men about 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of separate olive oil per day for three weeks. The researchers found that participants’ HDL levels improved significantly after they used the olive oil with the highest polyphenol content. In another research, when 60 older adults consumed about 4 tablespoons (50 ml) of high-polyphenol extra virgin olive oil every day for 6 weeks, their HDL cholesterol increased by 6.5 mg/dl, on average.
In addition to raising HDL levels, olive oil has been found to increase HDL’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant function in studies of older people and in individuals with high cholesterol levels. Whenever feasible, select high-quality certified extra virgin olive oils, which tend to be highest in polyphenols.
Conclusion: Extra virgin olive oil with high polyphenol content has been shown to raise HDL levels in normal people, the elderly and in individuals with high cholesterol.
2. Follow a low-carb or ketogenic diet
Low-carb and ketogenic diets provide plenty of health benefits, including weight loss and decreased blood sugar levels. It has also been proven that such diets raise HDL cholesterol in people who tend to have lower levels. This includes those who are overweight, insulin-resistant or diabetic.
In one investigation, people with type 2 diabetes were divided into two groups. One group followed a diet eating less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. The other group followed a high-carb diet. Although both the groups lost weight, the low-carb group’s HDL cholesterol increased almost twice as much as the high-carb group. In a different study, overweight people who followed a low-carbohydrate diet encountered an increase in HDL cholesterol of 5 mg/dl overall. Meanwhile, in a related study, the members who ate a low-fat, high-carb diet showed a drop in HDL cholesterol. One study of obese women found that foods high in meat and cheese increased HDL levels by 5%, in contrast to a high-carb diet.
In addition to raising HDL cholesterol, very-low-carb nutrition has been shown to reduce triglycerides and improve many other risk factors for heart disease.
Conclusion: Low-carbohydrate and ketogenic foods usually increase HDL cholesterol levels in people with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.
3. Exercise daily
Being physically active is essential for heart wellness. Researchers have revealed that different types of exercises are capable of raising HDL cholesterol, including strength training, high-intensity interval training, and aerobic activity. However, the significant improvements in HDL are usually seen with high-intensity exercise.
One study followed women who were living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is also linked to a higher risk of insulin resistance. The study expected these women to perform high-intensity training three times per week. This routine led to an increase in HDL cholesterol of 9 mg/dl after ten weeks. The females also showed improvements in other health markers, including decreased insulin resistance and improved blood pressure. In a 12-week study, obese men who performed high-intensity training encountered a 10% increase in HDL cholesterol. In contrast, the moderate-intensity exercise group showed only a 2% improvement and the endurance training group experienced no change.
However, even lower-intensity activity seems to increase HDL’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, whether HDL levels change or not. Overall, high-intensity training such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and high-intensity circuit training (HICT) may increase HDL cholesterol levels the most.
Conclusion: Exercising numerous times per week can help increase HDL cholesterol levels and improve its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. High-intensity forms of training are especially effective.
4. Add coconut oil to your food menu
Researchers have revealed that coconut oil may decrease food cravings, boost metabolic rate and assist in protecting brain health, among other benefits. Many people are concerned about coconut oil’s effects on heart health due to its high saturated fat content. Nonetheless, it seems that coconut oil is actually quite heart healthy. Coconut oil raises HDL cholesterol more than many other types of fat. Additionally, it may also improve the ratio of low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol, to HDL cholesterol. Improving this ratio reduces the risk of heart disease.
One study investigated the health benefits of coconut oil in 40 women with excess belly fat. The researchers found that participants who took coconut oil every day experienced improved HDL cholesterol and a lower LDL-to-HDL ratio. In contrast, the group of people who took soybean oil daily had a decrease in HDL cholesterol and an increase in the LDL-to-HDL ratio.
Most studies have found these health benefits occur at a dosage of about 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil per day. It’s sufficient to include this in cooking rather than eating spoonfuls of coconut oil.
Conclusion: Consuming two tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil per day may help improve HDL levels in the long run.
5. Quit smoking
Quitting smoking can decrease the risk of heart disease and lung cancer. Smoking raises the risk of numerous health problems, including heart disease and lung cancer. One of its adverse consequences is suppression of HDL cholesterol levels.
Some investigations have discovered that quitting smoking can increase HDL levels. Indeed, one study found no notable difference in HDL levels between former smokers and people who had never smoked. In a one-year research of more than 1,500 people who quit smoking found their HDL levels to be double the level of those who returned to smoking within a year. The number of large HDL particles also increased, which further reduced the risk of heart disease. One research followed smokers who switched from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes for one year. They found that this change was associated with an increase in HDL cholesterol of 5 mg/dl, on average. When it comes to the impact of nicotine replacement patches on HDL levels, the research results have been mixed. One study also found that nicotine replacement therapy led to higher levels of HDL cholesterol. However, another analysis suggested that people who use nicotine patches likely won’t see increases in HDL levels until after replacement therapy is completed.
Even in studies where HDL cholesterol levels didn’t rise after people stopped smoking, HDL function increased, resulting in less inflammation and other beneficial effects on heart health.
Conclusion: Quitting smoking can increase HDL levels, improve HDL function and help to protect the heart.
6. Weight loss
When overweight and obese individuals lose weight, their HDL cholesterol levels usually rise. This benefit seems to occur whether weight loss is accomplished by calorie restriction, carb restriction, intermittent fasting, weight loss surgery or a combination of diet and training.
One research examined HDL levels in more than 3,000 overweight and obese Japanese adults who followed a lifestyle modification plan for 1 year. The researchers noticed that losing at least 6.7 lbs (3 kg) led to an improvement in HDL cholesterol of 4 mg/dl, on average. In another investigation, when overweight people with type 2 diabetes mellitus consumed calorie-restricted diets that provided 20-30% of calories from protein sources, they encountered significant increases in HDL cholesterol levels.
The solution to achieving and maintaining healthy HDL levels is choosing the type of food that makes it natural for you to lose weight and keep it off.
Conclusion: Almost all methods of weight loss, except for crash dieting, have been shown to increase HDL levels in people who are obese.
7. Choose purple-colored fruits and vegetables
Eating purple-colored fruits and vegetables is a delicious way to potentially improve HDL cholesterol levels. Naturally, the purple produce is comprised of antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Investigations using anthocyanin extracts have shown that they help fight inflammation, protect cells from free radicals and may also increase HDL cholesterol levels.
In a 24-week study of 60 people with diabetes, those who took an anthocyanin supplement two times a day experienced a 20% rise in HDL cholesterol, on average, along with other enhancements in other heart health markers. In a different study, when people with cholesterol issues took an anthocyanin supplement for 12 weeks, their HDL cholesterol levels increased by 14%.
Although these studies used extracts instead of real food, there are various fruits and vegetables that are the source of anthocyanins. These include eggplant, purple corn, red cabbage, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
Conclusion: Eating fruits and vegetables abundant in anthocyanins helps to increase HDL cholesterol levels.
8. Consume fatty fish
The omega-3 fats in fatty fish provide major benefits to heart health, including a reduction in overall inflammation and better functioning of the cardiac cells.
Some studies show that consuming fatty fish or using the fish oil can also help to raise low levels of HDL cholesterol. In a study of 30 heart disease sufferers, participants who consumed fatty fish four times per week encountered a significant increase in HDL cholesterol levels. The particle size of their HDL also increased.In another study, obese men who consumed herring fish 5 days per week for six weeks had a 6% increase in HDL cholesterol, compared with their levels after consuming lean pork and chicken breast five days a week.
Nonetheless, there are some studies that found no increase in HDL cholesterol in response to increased fish or omega-3 supplement intake. In addition to herring, other types of fatty fish that may help raise HDL cholesterol include salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies.
Conclusion: Eating fatty fish several times per week may help increase HDL cholesterol levels and provide other benefits to heart health.
9. Avoid artificial trans fats
Synthetic trans fats have numerous adverse health effects due to their inflammatory characteristics. There are two main types of trans fats. One type occurs commonly in animal products, including full-fat dairy. In contrast, synthetic trans fats found in margarine and other processed foods are produced by adding hydrogen to unsaturated vegetable and seed oils. These fats are also known as modern trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats.
Studies have shown that, in addition to raising inflammation and adding to several health problems, these synthetic trans fats may decrease HDL cholesterol levels. In one study, researchers examined how people’s HDL cholesterol levels responded when they consumed different kinds of margarine. The study found that participants’ HDL cholesterol was 10% lower after eating margarine comprising partially hydrogenated soybean oil, compared to their levels after eating palm oil. Another controlled investigation followed forty adults who had foods high in several types of trans fats. They found that HDL levels in females were significantly lower after they ate food high in industrial trans fats, compared to food products containing naturally occurring trans fats.
To preserve heart health and keep HDL levels in the prescribed range, it’s useful to avoid all artificial trans fats.
Conclusion: Artificial trans fats have been shown to lower HDL levels and to increase inflammation, compared to other fats.
What is the take-home message?
Although HDL cholesterol levels are somewhat determined by genetics, there are numerous things a person can do to naturally increase their levels.
Luckily, the manners that boost HDL cholesterol levels often provide many other health benefits.