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Ways To Get Good (HDL) Cholesterol

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HDL or “good” cholesterol is responsible for cleaning up cholesterol from the blood. It counterbalances non-HDL cholesterol such as LDL cholesterol and it can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Therefore, raising the level of your HDL cholesterol is good for your heart. While regular exercise and lifestyle changes can help you achieve this, foods can also contribute towards this goal. Discussed in this article are the most important foods proven to increase the amount of HDL removing cholesterol from the blood.

Why Raise HDL Cholesterol?

HDL or high-density lipoprotein is a special carrier molecule for cholesterol. Unlike LDL (low-density lipoprotein), HDL removes cholesterol from the blood and returns it to the liver.

Because it reduces the amount of cholesterol in the blood, HDL cholesterol is believed to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Therefore, high levels of HDL cholesterol (above 40 mg/dL for men and above 50 mg/dL for women) can lower the risk of heart disease.

Above 60 mg/dL, HDL cholesterol is considered protective against heart disease.

Goals of Hypercholesterolemia Treatment
  • Raise HDL cholesterol
  • Lower LDL cholesterol and other non-HDL cholesterol
  • Lower triglycerides

A high level of HDL cholesterol is desirable because it means that the blood concentration of cholesterol is constantly being regulated.

In addition, a low HDL cholesterol level is even more dangerous when the blood level of LDL cholesterol is also high. Unlike HDL, LDL is the lipoprotein used to carry cholesterol around the body and through the blood. Therefore, a high LDL level indicates a high blood cholesterol level.

There are a number of effective ways to raise HDL cholesterol (and lower LDL cholesterol). The 3 major means of achieving this goal are dietary changes, regular exercise and lifestyle modifications.

Besides foods, regular aerobic exercise can increase HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol.

Exercise can also help you lose weight. By keeping a healthy weight, HDL cholesterol rises and the risks of obesity and cardiovascular diseases fall.

Lastly, smoking can lower HDL cholesterol. Therefore, you should quit smoking to increase your HDL cholesterol level.

Discussed below are the food sources of good cholesterol.

Good Fat, Bad Fat

To increase your HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol, you should pick your fats carefully.

Ideally, 20 – 35% of the calories supplied by your daily diet should be due to fat. However, saturated fats should only be responsible for less than 7% of your daily calories. Saturated fats are usually obtained from animal and dairy sources.

Most of the dietary fat you consume should be monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are unprocessed vegetable fats.

Sources of these unsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and avocado oil. Other sources of these healthy fats include oils extracted from cashew, walnut, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, and pecans.

These types of fats have been shown to enhance the anti-inflammatory properties of high-density lipoprotein. This means that even as they increase the amount of HDL in the blood, they also enhance its health benefits.

Besides saturated fat, another class of fats to eliminate from your diet is trans fat. Trans fats are mainly found in hydrogenated vegetable oils and refined foods prepared with these oils.

Trans fats not only lower HDL cholesterol, but they also raise LDL cholesterol.

Fiber Foods

Studies have shown that foods high in soluble fiber foods can raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol.

Dietary fiber is important for lowering total cholesterol levels. Fiber prevents the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol by binding to them. In the gastrointestinal tract, fiber absorbs water and expands into a gelatinous mass that traps fats and cholesterol.

When soluble fiber binds to fats and cholesterol, they are removed along with the content of the gastrointestinal tract.

The increased fecal excretion of fats and cholesterol directly leads to lower blood levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. This will also cause an increase in the blood level of HDL cholesterol.

Food Sources of Soluble Fiber
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, oat, and oat bran
  • Nuts such as walnut, brazil nuts, and almonds
  • Legumes
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are popularly known as excellent supplements for maintaining and improving cardiovascular health. The two major types of omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed oil and borage oil.

Studies show that both the dietary and supplemental forms of omega-3 fatty acids can raise HDL cholesterol.

Niacin-rich Foods

Niacin is also known as vitamin B3. It is one of the most effective supplements for raising HDL cholesterol.

Niacin-rich foods include chicken breast, tomato, halibut, lettuce, crimini mushroom, and niacin-enriched bread and breakfast cereals.

Niacin is also widely sold as an over-the-counter supplement. The 3 most common types of niacin supplements are nicotinic acid, nicotinamide, and flush-free niacin or inositol hexaniacinate.

Of these different niacin supplements only nicotinic acid raises HDL cholesterol.

Although inositol hexaniacinate is made up of 6 molecules of nicotinic acid bound to a molecule of inositol, studies show that this niacin supplement does not easily release its nicotinic acid.

Experts advise that niacin supplementation for lowering high blood cholesterol should be supervised by a doctor because of the nasty side effects of nicotinic acid. These side effects include hot flashes, itching, and flushing.

Niacin does not only raise HDL cholesterol, it significantly lowers the levels of LDL cholesterol and other non-HDL cholesterol. To achieve this, niacin blocks the breakdown of stored fat and reduces the number of lipids released back into the blood.

Other Recommended Foods for Raising HDL Cholesterol


Oatmeal has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. Studies also show that regular consumption of oatmeal can raise the proportion of HDL cholesterol in total cholesterol.

Of the many food sources of soluble fiber, oat is the most studied. Most studies agree that oat can improve lipid profile and help lower blood cholesterol. In one study, the participants who were given oatmeal for 60 days experienced a 20% drop in LDL cholesterol and a corresponding increase in HDL cholesterol.

Oatmeal is rich in dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates. Therefore, it reduces the absorption of dietary fats and cholesterol even while reducing the number of fats stored in the liver and adipose tissue.

Experts recommend including 20 g of soluble fiber in the diet daily to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Therefore, regular oatmeal breakfast is good for the heart.


Avocado is one of the commonly recommended foods for raising HDL cholesterol. Although it was once regarded as fattening, recent studies have shown that avocado has the opposite effect on fats and cholesterol.

In one study, taking avocado for 1 week increased HDL cholesterol by 11%.

Avocado is an excellent source of monounsaturated fat that has been proven to be healthier than saturated and trans fats.

Berries and Fruit Juices

Berries such as cranberry and fruit juices such as orange juice can raise HDL cholesterol by 5 – 20%.

These fruits are rich in dietary fiber that can reduce the number of fats and cholesterol absorbed. In addition, they are rich in antioxidants that can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.

The low glycemic load of fruits and fruits juices also contributes to higher HDL cholesterol.


Soy and soy products such as tempeh and tofu have been shown to raise HDL cholesterol.

Soy contains phytoestrogens. These are medicinal agents derived from plants that act like estrogens. Therefore, soy products are recommended for post-menopausal women to enhance their estrogen levels. Much like estrogen replacement therapy, soy phytoestrogens can also increase HDL cholesterol levels.

Besides phytoestrogens, soy and soy products are rich in unsaturated fats and soluble fiber.

The results of past studies indicate that the regular consumption of 3 servings of soy foods per day can produce a 3% increase in HDL cholesterol (and also a 3% reduction in LDL cholesterol and 6% reduction in triglycerides).


Cocoa is a nutrient-rich beverage that has been conclusively proven to improve general health. One of the benefits of this antioxidant-rich drink is its beneficial effects on lipoprotein cholesterol.

In one study, daily consumption of 26 g of cocoa powder raised HDL cholesterol by 24% within 12 weeks.


The egg was once labeled as bad for the health because of its high cholesterol content. However, most experts now believe that eggs are indeed good for general health and even the heart. Some recommend avoiding egg yolk though since most of the cholesterol in an egg can be found in the yolk.

In a recent study, daily consumption of one egg for 3 months raised HDL cholesterol by 10.5 mg/dL.       





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