Chances are you have heard bad things about cholesterol. Imagine a waxy, fat-like substance in the bloodstream, and you can understand how cholesterol clogs arteries leading to heart disease and strokes. But not all cholesterol is the same. HDL is a “good” cholesterol that actually lowers your risk of heart disease. Fortunately, a few simple lifestyle changes can help you boost HDL levels.
Taking a Closer Look at Cholesterol
Cholesterol serves a useful purpose: our bodies need it to function properly. Problems arise when there is too much LDL cholesterol or not enough HDL. Blood tests can determine the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream (healthy ranges are shown below).
- Low density lipoproteins (LDL) ― Builds up on artery walls as plaque which can break off and cause the blood to clot in the artery leading to heart attack or stroke. You want your LDL number to be less than 130, and preferably below 100.
- High density lipoproteins (HDL) ― They act like a scavenger by removing LDL plaque from the artery walls. Your HDL number should be at least 40, and ideally even higher.
Controlling cholesterol to reduce the risk of heart attack involves more than simply lowering LDL cholesterol. Having adequate levels of HDL cholesterol is just as important because higher levels seem to protect against heart disease. Statins (a class of drugs commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol) are effective in lowering bad cholesterol, but have a minimal impact on raising HDL.
What You Can Do to Increase Your HDL Levels
- Get 30 minutes of physical activity every day: This can raise HDL by about five points
- Increase your intake of soluble fiber: Foods include oats, beans, peas, rice bran, barely, citrus fruits, strawberries, apples
- Switch to a diet rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: Good sources are olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, avocados, peanut butter, many nuts and seeds
- Avoid trans fatty acids: They can be found in baked goods, snacks, fried food, stick margarines and other spreads
- Lose excess weight: As pounds drop, HDL increases
- Stop smoking: Often causes HDL levels to increase significantly
Making these changes isn't always easy, but they can mean so much to your health. If you have any questions or concerns about your cholesterol, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor.
The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.