The good news is that changing your cholesterol levels is well within your control as some of the smallest lifestyle tweaks can yield a profound impact. A fast track to boosting HDL includes quitting smoking and increasing physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 times per week with two sessions of resistance training. Your choices at mealtimes, however, may prove to be an easier more attainable way to make lasting change. Here are the foods that raise HDL cholesterol.
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.
If you don’t already dust your cappuccino with cinnamon or shake pepper on your pasta, listen up: Spices like garlic, curcumin, ginger, black pepper, coriander, and cinnamon do more than flavor your food, they can also improve cholesterol. Research shows that eating a half to one clove of garlic each day could lower cholesterol up to 9%. Bonus: Adding extra seasoning to your food also reduces your appetite, so it’s easier to drop excess pounds, Steinbaum says.
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids and all-around delicious, walnuts have also been shown to improve the HDL-to-total cholesterol ratio, according to a study published in the American Diabetes Association’s peer-reviewed journal, Diabetes Care. This ratio is used by physicians to assess overall cardiovascular risk and can provide more information than just one value alone. A desirable ratio is anything below 5:1, but a ratio of 3.5:1 indicates very minimal cardiovascular risk.
Sugar and spice and everything nice… except for the fact that recent data has shown that added sugar is not so nice for our cardiovascular health or waistlines. In fact, a study published in Circulation found that people with the highest consumption of added sugars show significantly lower HDL levels. To cut back on your added sugar intake and increase HDL levels, consider replacing sugar with dates when you’re making baked goods like homemade granola bars, cookies, and cakes. It’s one way to slice total added sugars in half and will also give your sweet treat extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Oatmeal is one of the best cholesterol-fighting foods because it is so high in beta-glucans, the soluble fibers that cause oats to bulk up in liquid when you make oatmeal. Soluble fiber lowers your LDL, or "bad," cholesterol by forming a sticky layer in the small intestine that blocks cholesterol from entering your bloodstream. Make oatmeal and skip the instant packs with lots of added sugar. (In a rush? See our picks for best instant oatmeals.) Add fruit to your oatmeal to naturally sweeten it and boost the soluble fiber content even more.
Resistance training is a form of physical activity that forces your muscles to contract, building up strength and endurance. Some research also shows that resistance training could have beneficial effects on heart health as well and may decrease total and LDL cholesterol. (31) Weight lifting and bodyweight exercises like squats or lunges are some examples of resistance training that you can add to your routine.
Too much cholesterol in the blood builds up on artery walls causing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). The buildup of cholesterol narrows arteries, slowing or blocking the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to the heart, which can manifest as chest pain. If blood flow to the heart is cut off because of clogged arteries, the result is damage to the heart muscle – a heart attack.
I very simply lowered my cholesterol 57 points in 6 month (257 to 200) and my ldl from 158 to 132 by not eating meat. It has now been a year since I stopped eating meat, I cannot exercise due to major surgery but lost 50lbs and will have my cholesterol retested in September for my annual checkup. I’m also planning on going back to the gym soon. High cholesterol runs in my family and I was determined not to go on medication like my mom. I gained 30lbs when I was injured, I did not intend to go back to my weight as a teenager when I stopped eating meat, just lower my cholesterol, that was just a perk. I never deprive myself of food, I eat fish and I don’t miss meat from my diet at all. It was a conscience choice I made to try and lower my cholesterol, no one told me to or advised me but it worked and I’m happy I took the path. Good luck to all and stay healthy!
Large doses of vitamin B3, or niacin, have been found to raise HDL as much as 20 percent and are often prescribed for people with cholesterol problems. But keep in mind that a daily multivitamin contains all the niacin most people need. Supplementing beyond that can have a variety of side effects, including facial flushing, heartburn and even liver damage, so don’t try it without consulting a doctor.
Pick Purple Produce – Did you know that eating purple-colored vegetables and fruits can potentially increase your HDL cholesterol? That’s because these specific foods contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have been shown to help fight inflammation and protect your cells from free radicals. When you can, fill up your plate with purple produce like eggplant, purple corn, red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, and black raspberries.
Besides putting your heart health at risk, sugar is also known to be one of the most significant contributors to metabolic syndrome. In fact, the recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines labeled sugar as a “nutrient of concern” and voiced recommendations for added sugars to not exceed greater than 10% of total daily calories. So, if your goal is to nip sugar in the bud and increase your HDL cholesterol levels, start by evaluating your libations.
A study of over 1 million US veterans showed a U-shaped relationship between HDL and total mortality, with 50mg/dL as the level associated with the lowest mortality. [7, 2] In addition, an analysis of the Framingham study demonstrated that LDL and triglyceride levels modify HDL’s predictive value; CHD risk was found to be higher when low HDL was combined with high LDL and/or triglycerides as compared with the presence of low HDL levels alone. [8, 2] The relationship between HDL and CHD risk is also confounded by the presence of pro-atherogenic and inflammatory markers. 
Do you dread opening up the white envelope of lab results after your annual physical only to discover a jumble of numbers, red ink, and arrows pointing every possible direction? Lipid or cholesterol panel results can be confusing to comprehend, and when numbers come back “out of range” it can only further fuel feelings of discouragement and helplessness.
Other supplements that have been suggested for cholesterol have less evidence of being useful. In the case of red yeast rice, there is a potential danger because it contains a naturally-occurring form of lovastatin, a prescription drug. Garlic has now been shown to be ineffective for lowering cholesterol. Other supplements and food you may see touted include policosanol, coenzyme Q10, green tea, and soy.
Dr. Pacold notes that exercise has a greater effect on raising HDL cholesterol, which protects you from heart disease, than on lowering the LDL cholesterol that puts you at risk. It's good to know that even if you don’t see the numbers changing right away, regular exercise strengthens your heart and protects you from heart disease. If you’re not a big fan of exercise and not in great shape to begin with, remember that all you need to do to start reaping the heart-healthy benefits of exercise is 30 minutes of walking at a moderate pace every day. If you have a heart condition, talk with your doctor first about how much exertion is right for you when you begin, and then work your way up to your fitness goals for heart health.
Plain and simple, exercise raises HDL levels. “We looked at doctors and others who ran the Boston Marathon,” notes Castelli. “While the average male HDL is 45, men who ran the marathon ranged around 55.” One Georgetown University study found increased HDL in those who ran seven miles a week or took part in four moderate 30-minute sessions of any aerobic activity.
Flavor foods with herbs and spices whenever you can. It’ll help you cut back on condiments high in saturated fat while maximizing flavor. Spices and herbs also pack antioxidants, which can help improve cholesterol levels when combined with veggies. Ones we love: Basil, cilantro, rosemary, sage, ginger, garlic, tarragon, black and red chili pepper, mint, and oregano.