I have a yearly blood workup and last year my HDL was 37. This year its 42. According to the healthy range they want it to be greater than 40. Can you suggest some foods that would help me to increase the HDL while not increasing my LDL count which is at 73. Thanks for your time.

It is wonderful that you are taking an active interest in improving your good cholesterol (high density lipoprotein or HDL). As a dietitian, I explain to my patients that we do want to reduce our total cholesterol levels and especially reduce our “bad” (or LDL) cholesterol. Excess LDL cholesterol can build up in your blood and begin to clog up vessel walls. When this occurs, there is a narrowing of the vessels and eventually a blockage can occur, which cuts off oxygen to vital organs. The main job of your HDL cholesterol is to act as a scavenger. HDL cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol in your blood and takes it back to your liver to be broken down. The higher your HDL, the less LDL you will have in your blood.

There are several ways to help boost your HDL numbers. First, quit smoking. People that smoke have lower HDL levels. Next, if you are overweight, really work to healthfully lose those extra pounds. The Mayo Clinic reports that for every 6 pounds of weight loss, your HDL may improve by 1 mg/dL. Along those lines, if you lose weight AND get more physical activity, you will see even more significant improvements in your HDL numbers. It is recommended that we get ~30 minutes of brisk exercise around 5 times a week. Another way to help improve your lab values would be to choose healthier fats. Reduce intake of saturated and trans fats (butter, red meat, processed snacks) and increase consumption of monounsaturated (olive oil, avocado, nuts) and omega-3 fatty acids (fish, walnuts, spinach). Finally, choose a diet rich in whole grains (oatmeal, bran) and drink plenty of water. If you do this and limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods, you will see improvement in your HDL numbers in no time!

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