High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is one of the five major groups of lipoproteins. High-density lipoproteins, or HDL, actually protects you against heart disease by carrying excess LDL (bad) cholesterol back to your liver. That’s why you’ll often see it referred to as “good cholesterol”. In general, HDL cholesterol is a good thing.
High levels of HDL cholesterol are associated with a reduced risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). It appears that HDL particles “scour” the walls of blood vessels, cleaning out excess cholesterol that otherwise might have been used to make the plaques that cause CAD. The HDL cholesterol is then carried to the liver, where it is processed into bile, and secreted into the intestines and out of the body. So, when we measure a person’s HDL cholesterol level, we seem to be measuring how vigorously his or her blood vessels are being “scrubbed” free of cholesterol.
What you eat can help improve your HDL levels.
1. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate as a good cholesterol booster? Research from Italy published in the journal Appetite shows that eating 50 grams of dark chocolate (about 1.5 ounces) daily can improve the antioxidative action of HDL, or good cholesterol. As if you needed it, these results are proof that a diet to prevent heart disease can be tasty, too. Feel free to enjoy your healthy cholesterol diet just a little bit more. Just don’t overdo the chocolate — excess weight can also complicate cholesterol management.
Walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, pecans, peanuts, and hazelnuts are all good sources of heart-healthy fats and are great to add to your diet to increase your intake. Add nuts to cereal, yogurt, salad, stir fries, pasta dishes or rice. You can eat them raw, baked or lightly toasted, too.
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, and halibut are highest in omega-3 fatty acids, a specific type of unsaturated fat shown to be most beneficial for heart health and reduce the risk of death by heart attack. It is recommended to eat at least 2 servings of fish per week. If you don’t eat seafood, you could try fish oil supplements; flaxseed and walnuts contain omega 3’s as well, but fish contains the most usable form of omega-3s.
4. Red Wine
Low to moderate consumption of alcohol has heart-healthy benefits, and red wine is the beverage most often recommended for people who want to improve their HDL. Men may have up to two glasses of red wine a day and women can have one (a glass of wine is only about 5 ounces). However, alcohol consumption remains a personal choice, so if you prefer not to drink, don’t feel pressured to do so purely to raise good cholesterol levels.
5. Olive Oil
Olive oil is high in unsaturated fats and can help you elevate your HDL. Replace butter and fried foods with foods cooked lightly in a heart-healthy olive oil, and switch to an oil-based vinaigrette for your salads. Oil is healthy, but it’s high in fat and calories, so remember to practice moderation and keep your portions in check!
6. Purple Foods
A full rainbow of fruits and vegetables is your best strategy for getting a wide variety of nutrients, but those in rich in the colors red and purple may both raise good cholesterol and lower LDL levels. Anthocyanins are the chemicals in these fruits and vegetables that create these vivid colors. A Chinese study of 120 people given anthocyanin supplements showed increased HDL concentrations — 13.7 percent compared with 2.8 percent in the placebo group — and decreased LDL cholesterol. But you don’t need a supplement when you can simply add HDL-raising food sources like plums, grapes, purple cabbage, eggplant, and raspberries to your diet. Plus eating more fruits and veggies (in addition to whole grains) will increase your fiber, which has been shown to help control overall cholesterol levels — aim for about 25 grams a day.
Although many dieters shy away from this fruit because of its high fat content, it’s perfectly good for you thanks to its heart-healthy fats. Mash avocado to use as a spread on your sandwich or wrap, dice it into your salad, add it to omelets or whip up some homemade guacamole to enjoy with veggies or whole grain crackers.
Fiber, especially soluble fiber, can help bump up your HDL while reducing LDL. Oatmeal is an excellent source of soluble fiber, as is rice, bran, barley, dried peas and beans, and certain fruits like prunes and apples. A couple servings a day of these heart-healthy foods can have a positive effect on your HDL.