Foods high in monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil, nuts, and the oils in many salad dressings) seem to boost HDL best; it’s likely that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as cold-water fish) do so as well. Saturated fats, the kind in meat and dairy foods, are likely to drive up harmful LDL, so take this opportunity to cut way back. Worst of all are trans-fatty acids, the hardened oils often found in margarine, crackers and other snack foods-a substance Harvard Medical School nutrition expert Walter C. Willett, M.D., author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, calls “uniquely bad.” These foods can do exactly the opposite of what you want, lowering HDL while raising LDL.
First, a quick explainer: Cholesterol is a waxy substance that travels through your bloodstream, but not all of it is bad. HDL cholesterol (a.k.a. "good" cholesterol) actually sweeps away LDL cholesterol, or the "bad" kind. A high LDL level puts you at risk for heart attacks and strokes because it can clog arteries with plaque, a condition called atherosclerosis. A blood test can determine whether you have high cholesterol, and your doctor may recommend exercise or medication in addition to a healthier diet.
Eating seafood twice per week is a surefire way to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Fatty fish like salmon yields some of the greatest anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy benefits, as a Journal of Nutrition study found salmon protein to significantly increase the proportion of HDL cholesterol. One tip: fish should be purchased wild and sustainably caught. For a consumer guide on how to make informed choices you can check out the consumer guides provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
It’s harder to increase HDL or "good" cholesterol than it is to lower LDL or total cholesterol. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of the variation in HDL from person to person is due to genetic factors. But the following steps have been shown to boost HDL—and they are worth taking because they also lower total cholesterol and help protect the heart in many ways beyond their effect on HDL.
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Olive oil is a plant-based fat, so it's a better choice when you're trying to lower your "bad" cholesterol than fats that come from animals. It’s great mixed with red wine vinegar, a minced garlic clove, and a little ground pepper for a salad dressing. For something different, try braising vegetables like carrots or leeks. Just drizzle 3 tablespoons of oil over vegetables in a snug baking dish, scatter some herbs, cover with foil, and put in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes.
Paying close attention to what you eat can help you reduce your risk of developing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of arteries caused by plaque build-up inside the arteries. As the arteries narrow, blood can't flow properly through the arteries. Theis can lead to a heart attack or stroke. If the artery-clogging process has already begun, you may be able to slow it down by making changes in your lifestyle, including your diet.
Ground-breaking research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) studied nearly 9,000 European patients. All had previously suffered heart attacks. The trial found that those who reduced their LDL levels to an average 81 with high-dose statins significantly reduced their risk of major coronary events like heart attacks and strokes at the 4.8 year follow-up compared to patients who reduced their LDL to 104 on usual-dose statin therapy.
As defined by the US National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines, an HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) level of 60 mg/dL or greater is a negative (protective) risk factor. [3] On the other hand, a high-risk HDL-C level is described as being below 40 mg/dL. Randomized, controlled clinical trials have demonstrated that interventions to raise HDL-C levels are associated with reduced CHD events. A prospective analysis by Mora et al investigated the link between cholesterol and cardiovascular events in women and found that the baseline HDL-C level was consistently and inversely associated with incident coronary and coronary vascular disease events across a range of LDL-C values. [4]
Niacin (vitamin B3) is believed to block cholesterol production in the body. Although niacin in prescription supplement form appears to be most effective in increasing HDL, it may have side effects such as flushing, itching, and headache, so you may want to consider adding niacin-containing foods to your diet first. Niacin is found in high concentrations in crimini mushrooms, chicken breast, halibut, tomato, romaine lettuce, enriched bread, and cereals.
Niacin is a B vitamin that your body uses to turn food into energy. It also helps keep your digestive system, nervous system, skin, hair and eyes healthy. Most people get enough niacin or B3 from their diets, but niacin is often taken in prescription-strength doses to treat low HDL levels. Niacin supplementation can can raise HDL cholesterol by more than 30 percent. (7)
A study published in January 2016 in the journal Nutrients found that an antioxidant-rich diet raises HDL cholesterol levels in relation to triglycerides, and might be associated with a reduced risk of stroke, heart failure, and inflammatory biomarkers. Antioxidant-rich foods include dark chocolate, berries, avocado, nuts, kale, beets, and spinach.
As if we needed another excuse to grab a second scoop of guac at the tailgate? Avocados are the poster child for the heart-healthy diet due to their rich abundance of monounsaturated fat, high fiber, and potassium. Monounsaturated fats from avocados, in particular, have been connected to an increase of HDL cholesterol and decreases of total cholesterol, LDL particles, and triglycerides, as shown in an Archives of Medical Research study. These can even be substituted for heart-harmful hydrogenated oils in baked goods as the fruit yields the same creamy texture and mouthfeel. Avocado brownies anyone?!
HDL is more tightly controlled by genetic factors than are the other lipoproteins (ie, LDL, very–low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), intermediate-density lipoprotein [IDL], chylomicrons). For example, in certain families, especially some families with Japanese ancestry, a genetic deficiency of cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) is associated with strikingly elevated HDL-C levels. [10]
Trans fats are a byproduct of the chemical reaction that turns liquid vegetable oil into solid margarine or shortening and that prevents liquid vegetable oils from turning rancid. These fats have no nutritional value — and we know for certain they are bad for heart health. Trans fats increase LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels while reducing levels of HDL cholesterol.

HDL serves as a chemical shuttle that transports excess cholesterol from peripheral tissues to the liver. This pathway is called the RCT system. In this system, plasma HDL takes up cholesterol from the peripheral tissues, such as fibroblasts and macrophages. (A study by El Khoury et al indicated that in persons with HALP, macrophages have an increased plasma cholesterol efflux capacity. [18] ) This may occur by passive diffusion or may be mediated by the adenosine triphosphate (ATP)–binding cassette transporter 1. The latter interacts directly with free apo A-I, generating nascent, or so-called discoidal, HDL. Cholesterol undergoes esterification by lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT) to produce cholesteryl ester, which results in the production of the mature spherical HDL. Cholesterol is also taken up from triglyceride-rich lipoproteins in a process mediated by a phospholipid transfer protein (ie, CETP). [19, 20, 21, 22]
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