Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that can help reduce blood pressure. Eating salmon can improve your "good" HDL cholesterol, but it won't lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps sweep cholesterol off your artery walls, preventing dangerous plaque from forming. The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish like salmon at least twice per week for heart-healthy benefits. Other fish that contain omega-3s, such as mackerel, tuna and sardines, can also help.
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.
While the world of wellness endlessly touts of benefits of anti-inflammatory foods, who knew eating these could kill two birds with one stone by also improving your cholesterol? Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, the phytochemical that gives this berry its dark blue pigment and are essential to overall heart health through enhancing anti-inflammatory pathways as well as increasing HDL cholesterol levels, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. One 2013 study found that consuming blueberries in tandem with exercise can increase HDL levels even more than exercise alone.
HDL’s unpredictable actions are one of the reasons why lowering LDL cholesterol often gets more focus as primary defense against heart disease and stroke. However, the medical world, both conventional and holistic, still agrees that raising low HDL is a very smart health move because low HDL cholesterol can be more dangerous than high LDL cholesterol. (8)
“If your LDL levels are still too high after trying these 6 nutrition-based approaches, talk to your doctor about cholesterol-lowering medications like statins, but give these 6 tips your best shot,” encourages Dr. Danine Fruge, MD, ABFP, Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “The right eating plan, like Pritikin, can be powerfully beneficial – and there are no adverse side effects.”
Raise your glass for heart health! In moderation, alcohol is known to raise HDL, or "good," cholesterol. Drinking a daily glass of red wine increased "good" HDL cholesterol and also decreased "bad" LDL cholesterol after a few months, found one study. Red wine also contains antioxidants called polyphenols that help keep your blood vessels healthy and strong. Remember that moderation means one drink for women or two for men daily and, in this case, more is not better.
About 80 percent of calories in nuts come from fat, but it's healthy unsaturated fat, not the artery-clogging kind. Nuts also are high in plant sterols, substances that block the absorption of cholesterol. Given these advantages, nuts are a natural for a heart-healthy diet. About an ounce and a half to two ounces a day should do it. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and pistachios all confer benefits. So do peanuts, although they're technically a legume and not a nut.
In fact, moderate alcohol consumption has actually been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol. (6) Moderate consumption for healthy adults is one alcoholic drink per day for women of all ages and men over 65 and up to two drinks per day for mean 65 and under. Organic red wine is a smart choice, but don’t start drinking just to improve HDL levels because overdoing does much more harm than good — both for cholesterol levels and your overall health.
HDL particles are heterogeneous. They can be classified as a larger, less dense HDL2 or a smaller, denser HDL3.  Normally, most of the plasma HDL is found in HDL3.  To add to the complexity of HDL classification, HDL is composed of 4 apolipoproteins per particle. HDL may be composed of apo A-I and apo A-II or of apo A-I alone. HDL2 is usually made up only of apo A-I, while HDL3 contains a combination of apo A-I and apo A-II. HDL particles that are less dense than HDL2 are rich in apo E.
Fiber is your friend when cholesterol is the enemy, so reach for foods that are full of soluble fiber. Just be aware that fiber comes in different forms, with one called soluble fiber and the other known as insoluble fiber. While both are good for your heart, it’s soluble fiber that’s great for your cholesterol. In addition to making you feel full, soluble fiber can actually reduce the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs. According to the Mayo Clinic, eating at least five to 10 grams of soluble fiber each day can lower both your LDL and total cholesterol levels. So better fill up your kitchen, along your body, with fiber-filled foods.
Not all oils are created equal when it comes to your heart health. Olive oil and soybean oil are mainly unsaturated fat, which can lower LDL cholesterol and at the same time increase HDL cholesterol. In a study published in July 2015 in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that including olive oil in the diet decreased LDL concentrations in healthy young men.
High levels of HDL cholesterol, often called "good" cholesterol, are associated with a reduced risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). It appears that HDL particles "scour" the walls of blood vessels, cleaning out excess cholesterol that otherwise might have been used to make the plaques that cause CAD. The HDL cholesterol is then carried to the liver, where it is processed into bile, and secreted into the intestines and out of the body.
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.
Hayek T, Chajek-Shaul T, Walsh A, Agellon LB, Moulin P, Tall AR, Breslow JL. An interaction between the human cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) and apolipoprotein A-I genes in transgenic mice results in a profound CETP-mediated depression of high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. J Clin Invest. 1992 Aug;90(2):505–510. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Before you begin dramatically changing your diet or taking any supplements, you should talk with your doctor and dietitian. Food is an outstanding and all-natural way to deliver more heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to your body. However, certain foods and supplements are off-limits because of their possible interactions with medications or prescriptions.
According to a study published in November 2015 in the journal Nature, a diet high in carbohydrates — like added sugar, white bread, cookies, and cakes — reduces HDL cholesterol levels, increasing the risk for metabolic disorders. Refined carbohydrates found in foods labeled “low-fat” make these just as bad as full-fat foods because the fat is often replaced with carbohydrates from added sugar and other starches.
There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble (viscous) and insoluble. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of all high-fiber foods. Refined foods, like white bread, white pasta and enriched cereals are low in fiber. The refining process strips the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which reduces the amount of fiber that's left.