HDL Cholesterol – Boost Your ‘Good’ Cholesterol Levels

Parul Dube

December 2, 2022

Blood contains cholesterol, which can be either fatty or waxy. Although high cholesterol is generally considered bad for your health, it is not entirely harmful. It is because the body needs cholesterol in the right amounts to function.

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) -the good cholesterol, flushes out the bad cholesterol – LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein), which builds up in the inner walls of the arteries, blocking blood flow. Conversely, low-density lipoprotein is “bad cholesterol” because it can build up on the arterial wall, causing blockages.

Read more: Normal Cholesterol Levels – Beyond the Basics!

Your risk for heart disease increases when you have poor HDL cholesterol levels, which often result from unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as poor eating patterns and lack of exercise. You can learn your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels to understand your heart disease risk better.

The Issue with Hypercholesterolemia (High Levels of Bad Cholesterol)

The leading causes of hypercholesterolemia are consuming fatty foods, not enough exercise, being overweight, smoking, and consuming alcohol. Genes may also have a role. However, a healthy diet and adequate to improved exercise levels can help you reduce bad cholesterol levels.

Additionally, a person’s glucose levels significantly impact their cholesterol levels directly and indirectly. For instance, if a diabetic person fails to control their blood glucose levels, this worsens their cholesterol levels.

Decreased HDL cholesterol levels and increased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels characterise diabetic dyslipidemia. There is also a clear connection between cholesterol levels and glucose metabolism.

Studies show that elevated glucose/sugar levels in the blood pose a risk of higher cholesterol. Therefore, monitoring glucose levels is good for cholesterol management, particularly among diabetic patients.

Different people are affected by foods and activities in different ways. A BIOS device with CGM support displays the correlation between food intake, exercise levels, blood sugar levels, and insulin sensitivity.

Therefore, one with metabolic disease or at risk of any metabolic disorder could subscribe to HealthifyPro to assess their metabolic parameters better. Even the initial sign, typically being overweight, indicates that one’s metabolism is not functioning at its best. So it’s essential to take control of your metabolic health first to boost HDL cholesterol levels.

Understanding HDL

HDL cholesterol is often referred to as good cholesterol because it contains less fat and more protein than other types of cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is very dense, which is why it is called high-density lipoprotein.

Lipoproteins are small particles made up of fat and protein that function as vehicles for cholesterol to travel around the body. HDL cholesterol carries about a quarter of the body’s cholesterol and is one of the five main lipoproteins.

HDL cholesterol has a protective role since it removes excess cholesterol from the blood vessels, lowers macrophage buildup, and helps protect the arterial walls against LDL cholesterol. Therefore, the higher your HDL cholesterol, the lower your risk for heart attacks and strokes.

HDL Cholesterol Levels

A healthy level of HDL cholesterol can protect against heart attack and stroke since it sweeps LDL cholesterol from the arteries and returns it to the liver for removal.

A blood test called a lipid panel is used to detect your cholesterol levels. It would help if you had this test performed occasionally or as required, depending on your age, gender, risk factors, and family history.

Healthy HDL levels are different for men and women. Young girls and boys have similar HDL levels, but after puberty, HDL levels fall in boys and remain lower throughout their lives. 

Normal HDL cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) as per age and gender are as follows:

HDL CholesterolMenWomenChildren
Good40 or higher50 or higherGreater than 45
High60 or higher60 or higher200 or higher
LowLess than 40Less than 50n/a

A value above 60 mg/dL is high, and a value below 40 mg/dL is low. Heart specialists believe that HDL is most protective at around 40 to 59 mg/dL, and higher levels might not offer any extra protection.

Very high HDL could raise the risk of heart attack or stroke in some cases. Children are less likely to have high cholesterol, but anyone aged 20 or over should check their cholesterol levels every five years.

Ways to Increase Your HDL Cholesterol Level

Physical Exercise and Keeping a Healthy Weight

Your HDL level can rise with weight loss. Regular exercise can also increase HDL levels while decreasing LDL. Therefore, give 30 to 60 minutes daily for vigorous to moderate exercise. However, people aged 65 years and over should not overexert and focus on 30 minutes of moderate physical activity. If you haven’t been exercising much lately, you can gradually build up to the recommended amount.

HealthifyMe is a tried and tested fitness app which recommends easy home-based workouts based on your current fitness level. Subscribing to a HealthifyPro can enable you to access personalised workout plans with realistic goals based on your inputs and preferences.

Users get a customised exercise regimen, and the interactive AI called RIA provides detailed insights and reports and suggests ways to improve their performance.

Quit Tobacco Consumption

Smoking lowers HDL levels and raises LDL levels. Make an effort to avoid passive smoking as well. According to research, smoking is a cholesterol-dependent risk factor with a pathogenetic component, and it interacts with other risk factors to cause coronary heart disease. Therefore, hypercholesterolemia and cigarette use are strongly related. 

Right Dietary Choices

Right dietary choices can lower your LDL levels and increase your HDL cholesterol. Limit saturated fats and keep trans fats (found in some baked goods and fried foods) to a minimum.

Foods should consume for increase HDL cholesterol:

  • Bran
  • Brown rice
  • Almonds
  • Kidney beans
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Oats
  • Avocados

Consume Plant Sterols

Plant sterols are compounds that occur naturally in plants, fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, which can lower LDL cholesterol. In addition, some cereals, low-fat yoghurt, table spreads, and low-fat milk contain added plant sterols.

Consuming 2 to 3 grams of plant sterol-enriched foods can lower LDL cholesterol by around 10% and improve your HDL range. However, pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult their doctor before consuming them.

Reduce Alcohol Consumption

Higher LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels often arise due to heavy alcohol consumption. It raises the risk of heart disease and stroke, obesity, and blood pressure. Additionally, drinking too much can result in cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, and stroke.

It eventually leads to congestive heart failure, causing the heart to be too weak to pump efficiently. But consuming wine in moderation, especially red wine, considerably lowers LDL cholesterol and raises HDL cholesterol.

The HealthifyMe Note

You can increase your HDL cholesterol levels by making lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly. Some people only need to improve their diet to boost their HDL to an ideal level. Others may need to take medicines as well. If you are obese or overweight, losing weight can help increase your HDL cholesterol levels.

Foods That Increase HDL Cholesterol

For a cholesterol-friendly diet, there is a vast menu of food items across different cuisines for you to choose from. In addition, the AI-generated and nutritionist-supervised diet plan offered by HealthifyPro makes a note of your preferred dishes and favourite cuisines to suggest a customised diet plan that will benefit your cholesterol level without compromising on taste. Therefore, you can have a nutritious yet satisfying diet while working towards your cholesterol goal. 

Here are some foods to add to your diet:

Nuts and Seeds

Various studies show that nuts (pistachio, cashew, walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, etc.) significantly increase high-density lipoprotein. Fenugreek or methi seeds can lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Supplementing with sesame seeds helped patients with hyperlipidemia lower their triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and boost their antioxidant status. Basil, sunflower, flax, chia, and pumpkin seeds positively affect HDL cholesterol levels.


Allicin, a bioactive component found in garlic, lowers triglycerides and stops the spread of plaque. As a result, including it in your regular diet will help to reduce dangerous cholesterol levels.


Increased fibre consumption is an excellent way to lower cholesterol, and berries are among the fruits with the highest fibre content. In addition, due to their high antioxidant content, berries like blueberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, and raspberries aid in controlling LDL cholesterol and boosting HDL. 


Oatmeal offers soluble fibre, which can help reduce the absorption of bad cholesterol into your bloodstream. One soluble fibre in oats is beta-glucan, a fibre tied to boosting HDL cholesterol. Getting 3 grams of beta-glucan daily can improve heart health and HDL-LDL ratio. 


Avocados include monounsaturated fatty acids and folate. The risk of heart disease is reduced mainly by this type of good fat, which also helps maintain HDL levels.

According to research, those who are overweight or obese can increase their HDL cholesterol levels by adding one avocado per day to a heart-healthy diet.

Fatty fish

Research has shown that consuming fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel boosts high-density lipoproteins. It is high in omega-3 fatty acids, essential for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

Consume Healthy Fats

Fats and oils like peanuts, sesame, walnut, mustard, ghee, etc., help raise HDL cholesterol.

In addition, because they include a lot of monounsaturated Omega-3, these fats improve lipid profiles and support a healthy heart.

Green tea

The catechins in green tea help get your HDL-to-LDL ratio in a healthier place. Catechins are a family of antioxidants that improve your overall cholesterol concentration.

The HealthifyMe Note

A cholesterol-friendly diet limits your intake of unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats. In addition, fruits, leafy greens, nuts, oats, fatty fish, and olive oil help improve your HDL-to-LDL ratio. The key is to eat foods rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fibre, and antioxidants. 

Medications for Cholesterol

In the case of medicines, the advantages differ from one another, just as the disadvantages do. For example, some medications may help decrease LDL cholesterol while others may increase HDL slightly.

Because each person is unique, how a particular drug will affect your body will vary. To treat your condition, your doctor may recommend one or a combination of cholesterol medications. Therefore, speaking to your doctor before taking any medicine is vital.

Your doctor will consider all your risk factors before suggesting medication, not just your HDL cholesterol and lipid results. Statins can help by slowing the production of cholesterol in your liver.

As a result, your liver uses the cholesterol in your blood to compensate for the deficit. As a result, it lowers the LDL cholesterol level in your blood. However, you may need additional medicines when statins do not reduce cholesterol. 

When to Visit a Doctor

For men aged 45 to 66 and women aged 55 to 65, it is vital to check your cholesterol levels every one to two years. People over 65 should get their cholesterol checked every year.

Your doctor could advise taking more frequent readings if your test results are outside of acceptable parameters. Your doctor might suggest monthly testing if you have a genetic history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or other risk factors like diabetes or high blood pressure.


The ideal HDL level can vary from one person to another, depending on factors like age, gender, genetics, and medical history. HDL cholesterol is essential for good health, but it can sometimes be too low or too high, leading to heart problems. Taking steps to reach or maintain normal HDL levels earlier in life may prevent your cholesterol from becoming dangerously high over time.

Eating the right foods, limiting your saturated and trans fat intake, quitting smoking, and regularly exercising can help improve your overall ratio of HDL to LDL.

You may use HealthifyPro, and its innovative tech-enabled health intervention known as BIOS to track real-time glucose levels after every meal. It is a sensor fastened to your arm and continuously monitors your blood sugar levels.

In addition, it keeps track of how well your body reacts to various foods since the amount consumed, the time and the particular impact of the food on a person’s glucose levels all play crucial roles. Therefore, CGM can assist you in choosing the right kind and amount of healthy food for you by monitoring the effect of the food on your glucose levels and metabolism.

The Smart Plans and Pro Coaches provided by HealthifyMe will help you find ways to improve HDL through personalised diet plans and exercise routines. In addition, the much-celebrated tailored workout plan from HealthifyMe guides you to reach your goals in a realistic timeframe by constantly monitoring, analysing, and sharing real-time insights for areas of improvement. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Why is HDL good cholesterol?

A. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol, often known as HDL, is referred to as the “good” cholesterol since it helps to eliminate other types of cholesterol from your system. In addition, it transports LDL cholesterol to the liver, where one can eliminate it from the bloodstream before it builds up in the arteries. Therefore, a higher HDL cholesterol level indicates a lower heart disease risk. 

Q. How to raise HDL cholesterol?

A. There are various ways to raise HDL cholesterol levels. For example, consuming healthy fats and fatty fish, exercising regularly, weight loss, quitting smoking and limiting the consumption of alcohol, eating foods rich in fibre and antioxidants, and avoiding artificial trans fats, can assist in increasing HDL cholesterol levels.

Q. What is non-HDL cholesterol in a blood test?

A. Non-HDL cholesterol, which contains all of the “bad” types of cholesterol, is created by simply subtracting high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol from total cholesterol. Lesser than 130 mg/dL, or 3.37 mmol/L, is considered the ideal non-HDL cholesterol level. Next, divide the total cholesterol value by your HDL number to determine your cholesterol ratio. For example, your ratio would be 4 to 1 if your total cholesterol was 200 mg/dL (5.2 mmol/L) and HDL was 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L). Higher numbers indicate an increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Q. What if HDL cholesterol is high?

A. Low levels of HDL increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. Excellent HDL cholesterol levels are those that exceed 50 mg/dl. However, having levels of HDL cholesterol that are too high ( above 60/70 mg/dl) can damage your arteries. The cause of its occurrence is unclear to researchers.

Q. How to raise your HDL cholesterol naturally?

A. Choosing heart-healthy fats, opting for healthier alternatives, getting active, losing some extra pounds, reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking assists in raising HDL (high-density lipoproteins) cholesterol levels.

Q. Is it good to have high HDL cholesterol?

A. Certainly! When it comes to HDL cholesterol, high numbers are usually the goal. High HDL cholesterol levels are heart-friendly because it sweeps the artery-clogging LDL cholesterol out of your blood vessels. However, those with HDL cholesterol levels above 60 mg/dl had a nearly 50% higher risk of dying from heart disease or having a heart attack than those with HDL levels between 41 and 59 mg/dl. Therefore, too much HDL is unhealthy. 

Q. What is serum HDL cholesterol level?

A. A serum HDL cholesterol level of at least 1 mmol/L is considered normal. The serum cholesterol level of a person provides information on the total amount of cholesterol in their blood. High-density lipoprotein, low-density lipoprotein, and triglyceride levels in a person’s blood make up their serum cholesterol level. 

Q. Does exercise increase HDL cholesterol?

A. Regular endurance exercise has been proven to enhance high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol concentrations, which may help explain why physically active people have a lower risk of coronary heart disease than sedentary people. In addition, it is generally known that aerobic exercise, both short-term and long-term, raises plasma HDL cholesterol. Moreover, resistance training and muscle-toning exercises can increase HDL cholesterol. 

Q. Does physical activity increase HDL cholesterol?

A. Exercises like swimming, cycling, jogging, and walking are all excellent ways to increase your healthy cholesterol levels. You may also try moderate weight training. Physical activity is particularly beneficial for obese or overweight people looking to raise their HDL levels.

Q. How to improve HDL cholesterol with a diet?

A. One of the keys to raising HDL cholesterol levels is a Mediterranean diet. HDL cholesterol increases by eating healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Numerous studies have demonstrated the ability of nuts and seeds, including chia, sesame, flax, almonds, and pistachios, to raise HDL cholesterol, and fatty fish like herring, salmon, and mackerel help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Individuals should avoid trans fats as they can drop HDL cholesterol and raise LDL cholesterol. Trans fats are present in most fried foods, some margarine, and items made with shortening, like cakes and cookies. Reduce your intake of saturated fat, which is present in meats and full-fat dairy products.

About the Author

Parul holds a Masters of Medical Science in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and has worked across the globe from the U.K to New Zealand (NZ) gaining her License with the Health Professionals Council (HPC, UK) and the NZ Nutrition Council. From being a Gold medalist in Clinical Nutrition to being awarded an internship with World Health Organisation (WHO, Cairo, Egypt) and Contracts with CDC Parul has had a wide spectrum of work experiences. She is very passionate about Nutrition and Fitness and holds strong to her guiding mantras ‘ Move more’ and ‘Eat Food that your grandmother can recognize’!

Related Articles


Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your health is our priority. Talk to one of our experts and get the best plan for you today.
Chat With Us