HDL is your good cholesterol, and having enough is important for managing your overall cholesterol levels and metabolic health. HDL travels around in your bloodstream looking for and grabbing the bad cholesterol (and plaque build-up in arteries) to help your body get rid of it. HDL can help reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Ideal HDL levels are around 60 mg/dL
Ways to Increase HDL
- Eat Whole Grains – grains often get a bad reputation due to their carbohydrate content, but when it comes to grains and carbohydrates, quality matters more than quantity. Whole grains are a great source of fiber, which will help lower LDL. Specifically, look for 100% whole grains like quinoa, 100% whole wheat (unless you need to avoid gluten), millet, amaranth, buckwheat, steel-cut oats, etc. When purchasing packaged food, read the label carefully – foods will say “made with whole grains,” but when you read the whole label, you find there’s actually very few whole grains in the product.
- Eat Healthy Fats – eating fat is important, but the type of fat you eat makes a difference. Healthy fats from olives/olive oil, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), nuts/seeds, grass-fed butter or ghee, coconut oil, and avocados/avocado oil are great options. An omega-3 supplement may also be an option for you – check with your medical provider.
- Eat Beans and Legumes – like whole grains, beans and legumes are full of fiber. If you have not been eating beans/legumes, increase your intake slowly to allow your body to adjust and to decrease potential symptoms like bloating and gas.
- Eat Fiber – most Americans don’t eat enough fiber daily, and fiber is essential for helping your body remove bad cholesterol. Fiber also helps keep you regular! Women should aim for 25g/day and men should aim for 38g/day. As with beans/legumes, if your fiber intake has been low, increase slowly to allow your body time to adjust to the increased fiber intake. If your HDL is really low, increasing fiber intake to 50g/day may really help!
- Good sources of fiber: green leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans/legumes, flax and chia seeds, nuts (especially walnuts)
- Flax and Chia seeds – flax and chia seeds are high in omega-3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory. Buy whole flaxseed, then grind just before using. Flaxseeds can easily oxidize, which is why I recommend buying whole and only grinding what you need, as they will oxidize even faster after being ground. Chia seeds can be consumed whole, but I recommend soaking by adding to water/tea, making chia pudding, or adding to smoothies or oatmeal. Store in the fridge or freezer.
- Balance Your Blood Sugar – high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and high cholesterol often occur together, or will occur if one issue continues for an extended period of time. So, watching your blood sugar levels can help manage your cholesterol as well. Reduce intake of refined carbohydrates and balance each meal or snack with fat, fiber, and protein.
Exercise – aerobic exercise may have the most impact on increasing your HDL, but any type of exercise is going to help. The important part here is to move your body – as much as you can! Work to reduce long periods of sedentary time. Find ways to move that you enjoy, so that it’s easy and FUN!
Other Things to Consider
Some things can negatively affect your HDL levels. These include a sedentary lifestyle, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, smoking, and a high intake of saturated and trans-fats.