Not all cholesterol is bad cholesterol. There’s a type of cholesterol called HDL cholesterol that not only doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease, it lowers the risk by carrying fat that could clog arteries back to the liver where it can be broken down. That’s why it’s just as important to raise HDL levels as it is to lower levels of LDL cholesterol, the kind that’s linked with heart disease. The question is how to raise HDL levels.
Fortunately, there are ways to raise HDL levels that doesn’t involve drugs, although there are medications that can raise levels of HDL when they are very low and lifestyle changes don’t work. Here are some ways to raise HDL levels naturally.
Don’t Carry Around Excess Weight
Being overweight strikes a triple whammy. Not only does it lower HDL levels, it raises levels of LDL, the bad cholesterol. Carrying around too much weight also independently increases the risk of heart disease. One theory is that fat, especially fat around the belly, produces inflammatory hormones that increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack. If you’re carrying around too much weight, lose it.
Being more active can help you lose weight, which has a favorable effect on HDL – but aerobic exercise raises HDL independently of weight loss. To get the benefits of a higher HDL, take a brisk walk or any other form of exercise that gets your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes – and do it at least every other day. Regular aerobic exercise is one of the most effective ways to boost your HDL level.
Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Drinking alcohol boosts HDL levels – but only in moderation. Drinking more than that offers no additional health benefits, and it increases the risk of other health problems. Women, in particular, should balance the risks with the benefits since studies show that even one drink a day boosts the risk of breast cancer in females.
Eat Healthy Fats and Proteins
Saturated fats lower HDL levels, but substituting polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from sources like olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados raises HDL levels. Most importantly, avoid trans-fats since they not only lower HDL but increase LDL levels too.
Many animal-derived sources of protein like full-fat cheese and meat are high in saturated fat. Eat more meat-free sources of protein, especially soy, to boost HDL levels. According to a study discussed on Heart Wire, getting 40 grams or more of soy a day can raise your HDL level by almost 5 percent. Fortunately, there are a variety of soy foods to choose from these days including tofu, miso, tempeh and soymilk.
Another Way to Raise HDL Levels
If you don’t want to drink wine to raise your HDL, sip cranberry juice instead. According to another study on Heart Wire, drinking cranberry juice daily can boost HDL levels by almost 8 percent, comparable to some medications. The ideal amount seems to be about a cup a day. Researchers believe it’s the flavonoids in cranberry juice that raises HDL.
How to Raise HDL Levels: The Bottom Line
Lifestyle changes can modestly raise HDL levels and even a small increase can have a significant impact on heart disease risk. If you still have low HDL levels after making these changes, talk to your doctor about medication options.
The American Society for Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr. 132:50-54, 2002.
Heartwire. “Soy protein raises HDL in persons with normal cholesterol levels” https://www.theheart.org/article/289981.do
Heartwire. “A cup of cranberry juice a day increases HDL cholesterol” https://www.theheart.org/article/326367.do
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