What can I do to increase good cholesterol?

Raising your good cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins or HDL) is a really good way to help lower risk of a heart attack. HDL cholesterol actually carries excess cholesterol back to your liver, preventing it from clogging our arteries. Optimal HDL numbers would be 60 mg/dL or higher. These levels would help offset risk factors for heart disease according to Dr. David Katz, MD Director of the Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine. Low levels are less than 50 mg/dL for women and less than 40 mg/dL for men. Below these levels is considered a major risk factor for heart disease.

It sounds like you are off to a good start in hoping to raise your HDL numbers. Omega-three fatty acids (fish and fish oil) have long been thought to help lower total cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. However, the overall evidence on this is somewhat weak. But, in my opinion, the range of other anti-inflammatory healthy benefits from omega-3 fatty acids is so large that I would continue to include them as part of your diet. I also like that you are choosing healthy sources of fat (nuts). There are so many healthy vitamins and minerals in nuts and they are high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. Unfortunately, diets high in polyunsaturated fat tend to lower both types of cholesterol, both HDL and bad (Low-density lipoproteins or LDL) cholesterol. So, while nuts are good at lowering bad cholesterol, they aren’t necessarily going to raise your good numbers.

Several diet and lifestyle changes can help you to raise your HDL cholesterol. First I recommend losing weight if you are overweight. Healthy weight loss is not only important to help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, but also important in helping prevent cancer, diabetes, and stroke. According to Harvard Health Publications, “you can boost your HDL level by about 1 mg/dL for every seven pounds lost, although any amount of weight loss will help.” It is also important that you quit smoking. The before mentioned publication reports that HDL levels rise by as much as 15% to 20% after you quit smoking! Next, be sure to incorporate aerobic exercise into your routine! It is a fantastic way to help you both lose weight and raise HDL. Several reports suggest that achieving ~30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity approximately 5 days a week can assist in raising HDL ~5-10%. Finally, try to follow a Mediterranean style diet. This style of eating incorporates a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains. It is also filled with heart healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated-which help lower cholesterol). These come in the form of olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, fish etc. The Mediterranean diet also typically includes red wine. In moderation, it may help raise good cholesterol levels. And, I am going to Italy next year on my honeymoon. I suspect that my good cholesterol numbers will rise during that trip with all the walking, Mediterranean food and wine!

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