The high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and triglycerides team up to form your total cholesterol level. HDL is like the natural vacuum for cholesterol since it carries extra LDL cholesterol and triglycerides from your arteries and sends them to the liver for removal.
But while most people focus on driving down bad LDL, you still have to monitor your good HDL cholesterol levels. Making changes to your diet is the first line of defence for anyone looking to boost HDL cholesterol.
Following a whole foods-focused, healthy fat diet plan like the Mediterranean diet helps to improve overall cholesterol by increasing HDL. Although it’s possible to enhance HDL levels through diet alone, the best results will come from incorporating exercise as well.
What is HDL Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance naturally present in the body and moves through the bloodstream. Your liver produces most cholesterol, and some cholesterol comes from the animal-based foods you eat.
People automatically associate it with heart disease when they hear the word cholesterol. However, not all cholesterol is the same. There is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), often known as the “good” type of cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol. HDL and LDL are not created equally and don’t have the same effect on your body.
HDL-C, or high-density lipoprotein, is one of the five main lipoproteins and carries one-quarter to one-third of your total LDL back to the liver for removal. It is very dense and contains less fat and more protein than other types of cholesterol.
One simple way to keep track of your cholesterol and lipid profile is by signing up for HealthifyPro. With the CGM, smart scale, metabolic panel, health coaches and calorie counters, HealthifyPro helps you achieve superior metabolic health.
With a single-prick sampling, the metabolic panel identifies medical conditions you can be predisposed to. You can also see your entire blood profile, including a lipid profile, LFT, KFT, TFT, iron study, hemogram, diabetes screening and vitamin profile, amongst 85 other metabolic parameters, with a test every three months.
And suppose you’re a diabetic patient looking for evidence-based results and real-time information. In that case, the HealthifyPro CGM checks your body’s glucose levels 24/7 and how it reacts to different foods, exercise, and sleep.
After analysing the comprehensive information from the metabolic tests and CGM, Pro Coaches develop food and workout strategies that help keep glucose spikes to a minimum. Lower spikes mean better metabolic health and better cholesterol levels.
What Are Optimal HDL Cholesterol Levels?
HDL in the range of 40 to 59 mg/dL is normal, but doctors often recommend an HDL level of 60 mg/dL or higher for optimal benefits. However, there needs to be a balance among HDL, LDL, and triglycerides to reduce cardiovascular disease.
For instance, a study states that HDL’s protection depends on the levels of LDL and triglycerides. If the two other blood fats or lipids are not within normal ranges, even a high HDL may not be protective.
For example, high HDL (40 mg/dL or higher) reduces cardiovascular disease only when your LDL and triglycerides are 100 mg/dL or less. Higher HDL shows no protective effect when LDL and triglycerides level falls above 100 mg/dL or 150 mg/dL.
Normal HDL cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) as per age and gender are as follows:
|Anyone (19 or younger)||More than 45 mg/dl|
|Men (aged 20 or over)||Less than 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L)||60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above|
|Women (aged 20 or over)||Less than 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L)||60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above|
In most cases, the higher your HDL levels are, the better. The maximum adult range for HDL cholesterol is around 65 mg/dL for men and 80 mg/dL for women. Sometimes, the HDL benefits can get extended until 90 mg/dL in men.
While HDL levels lower than 40 mg/dL are problematic, raising HDL cholesterol beyond a certain point doesn’t offer any further benefit.
Research also suggests that extremely elevated HDL cholesterol indicates dysfunctional HDL, which may promote cardiovascular diseases.
Foods to Increase Your HDL Cholesterol
Olive oil reduces heart disease risk more than any other monounsaturated fat. It also increases HDL cholesterol due to its high concentration of polyphenols.
A study shows that consuming about four tablespoons of olive oil daily for six weeks helps boost HDL cholesterol among senior adults.
You may assume that adding more fats to a diet is bad. However, it comes down to the type of fat you eat because good fats make up a heart-healthy diet.
Nuts, such as walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, are a good source of protein, fibre, and healthy fats. They offer omega-3 fatty acid and alpha-linolenic acid, which plays a significant role in increasing HDL cholesterol.
Purple produce like eggplant, black raspberries, red cabbage, blueberries, and blackberries contain antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Anthocyanin extracts help combat inflammation, protect against potentially cancer-causing free radicals, and raise HDL cholesterol.
Chia, flaxseed, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds contain chock full of protein, omega-3s, fibre and minerals, which are good for the heart. You can eat ground flaxseeds to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.
It does this by stimulating HDL particles to perform a reverse cholesterol transport mechanism, which transports extra cholesterol to the liver for redistribution or removal.
Fatty fish and fish oil supplements contain impressive amounts of omega-3 fats, which help reduce inflammation and elevate low HDL cholesterol levels.
Eating fatty fish 2-3 times per week noticeably improves your total cholesterol ratio. Salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, and trout are among the best fatty fish for boosting HDL levels.
Cocoa and Dark Chocolate
Studies show that cocoa flavanols have favourable effects on HDL cholesterol and cardiometabolic health. Instead of eating chocolates with added sugar or sugary hot chocolate, stir some fresh cocoa powder into your morning oatmeal, smoothie, or yoghurt. Also, choose dark chocolate with at least 75% cocoa content for optimal benefits.
The monounsaturated fatty acids in avocados lower LDL while boosting HDL. According to a 2018 study, eating one avocado a day for five weeks while following a moderate-fat diet improved total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, and HDL.
Legumes and Beans
Beans and legumes are rich in soluble fibre, plant sterols and stanols that help improve the LDL-to-HDL ratio. The sterols and stanols are also present in quinoa, oat bran, almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
Fruits and Vegetable
Nutritionists will always encourage increasing fruit and vegetable intake because of their dietary fibre, nutrients, minerals, and vitamin content.
A varied diet must have whole grains to balance LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. Oats and barley can be hearty breakfast porridge and contribute towards recommended 3 grams of beta-glucan daily to improve heart health.
Adding 40 g/day of soy protein to a diet already low in animal protein can raise HDL cholesterol in adults with otherwise normal cholesterol readings. However, choose minimally processed soy products such as tofu, tempeh, or miso.
The HealthifyMe Note
After a certain threshold, higher HDL levels don’t offer extra protection. However, having poor HDL levels or below 40 mg/dL is unhealthy. Some foods boost your “good” or HDL cholesterol, such as oats, beans, legumes, olive oil, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and berries.
Boost HDL Cholesterol Levels like a Pro
Even when eating HDL-rich and heart-healthy foods, you might experience different results than others who eat the same meals. It’s a common misconception that everyone reacts the same to food.
For example, if your friend feels energised after eating oatmeal for breakfast, you may not feel the same. The response of your blood glucose level to food is personal, and it depends largely on how fast you eat, your hormonal cycle, stress, microbiome, the complexity of the meal, and other factors.
It also fully explains why there is no one-size-fits-all cholesterol diet and why the effectiveness of diets contradicts each other. Therefore, the guidance from HealthifyMe’s in-house dieticians, nutritionists and fitness coaches allows you to make insightful choices for the nutrition that works for you.
Most nutritional advice is out of necessity and applies to everyone, such as drinking enough water or eating more vegetables. But when it comes to more specific strategies, like how much to eat to maintain HDL cholesterol and what you should eat, you must discuss suitable eating plans with your physician or nutritionist.
The Pro coaches will tweak nutrition plans based on your current HDL levels, calorie budget, regular activity, and food preferences.
The app’s simple yet sophisticated user interface includes calorie tracking, preparing a sleep schedule, and counting burnt calories after a workout session. You can also trace the total steps taken by syncing your Google Fit app to the HealthifyMe App.
The consultation calls and AI nutritionist Ria provide daily and weekly insights to track your progress. All these premium services cater to diverse age groups.
Several factors affect HDL cholesterol levels, including diet, physical activity, family history, genetics, etc. Heart-healthy foods easily boost your HDL cholesterol levels while keeping your “bad” LDL cholesterol levels in check. However, raising HDL cholesterol does not have to focus on cutting your favourite foods from your diet.
Learn how to increase your HDL cholesterol and improve your heart health with the HealthifyMe App. While you hustle with work-life balance, HealthifyMe coaches plan healthier meals and workout routines for your heart.