9 Ways to Increase HDL Cholesterol (the Good Kind!)

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.

How to Recover from a Heart Attack

Okay, so you have survived a heart attack. I am truly happy for you. However, for going forward you need to follow some guidelines that will help you to avoid the next episode. By following specific lifestyle and diet suggestions, you will reduce the chance of another heart attack by enhancing your overall health and well-being.

Recovering from a heart attack can take several months, and it’s very important not to rush your rehabilitation.During your recovery period, you’ll receive help and support from a range of healthcare professionals like Consultant Cardiologist, nurses, physical therapists, dietitians and exercise specialists. These healthcare professionals will support you physically and mentally to ensure that your recovery is conducted in a safe manner.

The most important parts of the recovery process are as follows:

Cardiac rehabilitation

Your cardiac rehabilitation program will begin while you’re still in the hospital.  A member of your cardiac rehabilitation team should visit you in the hospital and provide detailed information about your state of health and how the heart attack may have affected it; the type of treatment you received; what medications you’ll need ;when you leave the hospital; what specific risk factors  have contributed to your heart attack; and what lifestyle changes you can make to address those risk factors.

Exercise

Once you return home, it’s usually recommended that you rest and only do light activities, such as walking up and down the stairs a few times a day or taking a short walk. You can gradually increase the amount of activity you do each day over several weeks.

Your rehabilitation program should contain different exercises, depending on your age and ability.

Returning to work

Every person can return to work after a heart attack, but how quickly will depend on your health, the state of your heart and the kind of work you do. If your job involves light duties you may be able to return to work in as little as two weeks. However, if your job involves heavy manual work or your heart is extensively damaged, then it may take several months before you can resume your duties.

Driving

You may be able to drive after one week. However, you should be cleared by your doctor in case there are other conditions or complications that would disqualify you from driving.

Depression

Having a heart attack can be frightening and traumatic, and it’s common to have feelings of anxiety afterward. For many people, the emotional stress can cause them to feel depressed and tearful for the first few weeks after returning home. If feelings of depression persist, speak to your doctor, because you may have a more serious form of depression. It’s important to seek advice because serious types of depression often don’t get better without treatment.

Diet

It’s recommended that you eat two to four portions of oily fish a week. Oily fish contain a type of fatty acid known as omega-3, which can help to lower your cholesterol levels.

Good sources of omega-3 include :

Herring

Sardines

Mackerel

Salmon

Trout

Tuna

It’s also recommended that you eat a Mediterranean-style diet. This means eating more fruit, vegetables and fish,but less meat. Replace butter and cheese with products based on vegetable and plant oil, such as olive oil.

Smoking

If you smoke, it’s strongly recommended that you quit as soon as possible. If you were a smoker, your doctor may be able to offer suggestions on remaining smoke-free for the rest of your life. Your doctor can also recommend and prescribe medication to help you give up cigarettes.

Alcohol

It is wise to limit your overall alcohol intake to allow your body to get strong and recover well. Eventually, some alcohol in moderation is okay.

Weight management

If you’re overweight or obese, it’s recommended that you lose weight and then maintain a healthy weight by using a combination of exercise and diet.

Regular physical activity

Once you’ve made a sufficient physical recovery from the effects of a heart attack, it’s recommended that you engage in physical activity on a regular basis. The level of activity should be strenuous enough to leave you slightly breathless. Start at a level you feel comfortable with (for example, 5-10 minutes of light exercise a day) and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your fitness improves.

6 Tips for sticking to your Recovery Plan

Take it one step at a time

1—Your Action Plan may include some changes to your lifestyle, from diet to exercise to stress reduction. Don’t feel like that you must tackle it all at once. It’s difficult to change too many things at once. Conquer one thing, then move on to the next.

2—Always talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.

3—Be realistic. 

Set achievable goals. If you need to lose weight, don’t think about losing 50 pounds – focus on the first five. If you’re just starting a workout plan, it’s probably not realistic to think you’ll be running miles in weeks. The key is to find what works for you.

4—Plan-ahead.

A heart-healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. You can – and should – go out to dinners, attend parties, and take vacations. Just do a little planning ahead. Technology has made it easier than ever. Food Tripping and Map My Walk are two apps that can help.

5—Build a support system.

Don’t feel like you must do it alone. Build a support system of friends, family, and co-workers – they can help you keep going.Of course one of the most important supporters is your Heart Specialist. Be sure to get regular checkups and ask questions. There are also online support groups as well as local support groups. Take advantage of them.

6—Make new (healthy) habits.

Ever wonder why it’s easier to stick to bad habits than good ones? Unhealthy habits normally give you instant gratification. But you pay for it later. Healthy habits, on the other hand, may take longer to pay off – but the rewards are bigger and better.

Getting help

Everyone who experiences a heart attack faces challenges. Any guidance or advice you receive should be tailored to your specific needs.

Take care of your heart—and your heart will take care of you.