Many people don't like to hear it, but regular aerobic exercise (any exercise, such as walking, jogging or bike riding, that raises your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes at a time) may be the most effective way to increase HDL levels. Recent evidence suggests that the duration of exercise, rather than the intensity, is the more important factor in raising HDL cholesterol. But any aerobic exercise helps.
To maintain a healthy body, you should exercise on a daily basis. If you want another specific reason to start exercising or increase your frequency of exercise, it’s your HDL levels. Increased physical activity directly helps raise your HDL cholesterol — just another one of the many benefits of exercise. Vigorous exercise is the best choice for boosting HDL, but any additional exercise is better than none. (2)
People on high-carb diets full of pasta, bread and sugar-even those who exercise frequently-tend to have lower HDL levels than those who eat plenty of protein and good fats along with veggies and whole grains. “Low HDL often results when people are told to get all the fat out of their diets and eat carbohydrates instead,” Willett says. A British study showed that people with high HDL levels tend to focus on slower-burning carbs, such as beans and fruit.
Nuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, so almonds, walnuts, or pistachios can help reduce your LDL levels. Try sprinkling them on your salad, or eat them right out of hand as a snack. Just be sure to choose the low-salt option, and keep it to about 1.5 ounces a day -- nuts are also high in calories. For almonds, that’s about 30 almonds or 1/3 cup.
Grabbing a plum to snack on during the day is a sweet way to keep your cholesterol levels in check: The fruit contains anthocyanins — a.k.a. antioxidants — that help out your heart by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. According to one study, eating three or more servings of anthocyanin-rich fruit each week can lower your heart attack risk by 34 percent.
HDL cholesterol carries excess cholesterol to your liver so it doesn’t build up in your bloodstream. But when LDL cholesterol moves cholesterol throughout your body, it can build up in the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow. If you have too little HDL cholesterol and too much LDL, you may be diagnosed with high cholesterol, a condition that can lead to atherosclerosis, angina (often experienced as chest pain), heart attack, and stroke.
1. Oats. An easy first step to improving your cholesterol is having a bowl of oatmeal or cold oat-based cereal like Cheerios for breakfast. It gives you 1 to 2 grams of soluble fiber. Add a banana or some strawberries for another half-gram. Current nutrition guidelines recommend getting 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day, with at least 5 to 10 grams coming from soluble fiber. (The average American gets about half that amount.)
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.
Trans fats increase your LDL cholesterol, reduce your HDL levels and raise your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Trans fats lurk in fried foods, stick margarine, cookies, crackers, cakes, pie crusts and frozen pizza. Today, some food manufacturers are removing them from their products, but the only way to tell if a product is trans fat-free is to read labels while you’re shopping. Avoid products that list “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients, since this is just a sneaky name for trans fats.
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.
You've probably heard that fried foods of all kinds, hydrogenated oils, and full-fat dairy products are cholesterol bombs that are best avoided (and not just by those watching their cholesterol levels). The American Heart Association recommends that everyone restrict these foods, as they contain trans and saturated fats, the "bad" kind that raises LDL cholesterol and leads to plaque buildup in the arteries.