Published:  12:55 AM, 13 September 2017 Last Update: 12:57 AM, 13 September 2017

Ways to increase 'good' HDL cholesterol

Ways to increase 'good' HDL cholesterol

Having high HDL levels helps carry cholesterol from your arteries to your liver, where it can be used or excreted. Having high levels of HDL also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Most health experts recommend minimum blood levels of 40 mg/dl in men and 50 mg/dl in women. While genetics definitely play a role, there are several other factors that affect HDL levels. Here are some healthy ways to raise your good HDL cholesterol.

Consume olive oil: Olive oil is one of the healthiest fats around. A large analysis of 42 studies with more than 800,000 participants found that olive oil was the only source of monounsaturated fat that seemed to reduce heart disease risk. Research has shown that one of olive oil's heart-healthy effects is an increase in HDL cholesterol. This effect is thought to be caused by antioxidants it contains called polyphenols.

Extra virgin olive oil has more polyphenols than more processed olive oils, although the amount can still vary among different types and brands. One study gave 200 healthy young men about 2 tablespoons (25 ml) of different olive oils per day for three weeks.

The researchers found that participants' HDL levels increased significantly more after they consumed the olive oil with the highest polyphenol content. In another study, when 62 older adults consumed about 4 tablespoons (50 ml) of high-polyphenol extra virgin olive oil every day for six weeks, their HDL cholesterol increased by 6.5 mg/dl, on average. In addition to raising HDL levels, olive oil has been found to boost HDL's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant function in studies of older people and individuals with high cholesterol levels. Whenever possible, select high-quality certified extra virgin olive oils, which tend to be highest in polyphenols.

Add coconut oil to your diet: Studies have shown that coconut oil may reduce appetite, increase metabolic rate and help protect brain health, among other benefits. Some people may be concerned about coconut oil's effects on heart health due to its high saturated fat content. However, it appears that coconut oil is actually quite heart healthy. Coconut oil tends to raise HDL cholesterol more than many other types of fat. In addition, it may improve the ratio of low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol, to HDL cholesterol. Improving this ratio reduces heart disease risk. One study examined the health effects of coconut oil on 40 women with excess belly fat.

The researchers found that participants who took coconut oil daily experienced increased HDL cholesterol and a lower LDL-to-HDL ratio. In contrast, the group who took soybean oil daily had a decrease in HDL cholesterol and an increase in the LDL-to-HDL ratio. Most studies have found these health benefits occur at a dosage of about 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil per day. It's best to incorporate this into cooking rather than eating spoonfuls of coconut oil on their own.

Eat fatty fish often: The omega-3 fats in fatty fish provide major benefits to heart health, including a reduction in inflammation and better functioning of the cells that line your arteries. There's some research showing that eating fatty fish or taking fish oil may also help raise low levels of HDL cholesterol. In a study of 33 heart disease patients, participants that consumed fatty fish four times per week experienced an increase in HDL cholesterol levels.

The particle size of their HDL also increased. In another study, overweight men who consumed herring five days a week for six weeks had a 5% increase in HDL cholesterol, compared with their levels after eating lean pork and chicken five days a week. However, there are a few studies that found no increase in HDL cholesterol in response to increased fish or omega-3 supplement intake. In addition to herring, other types of fatty fish that may help raise HDL cholesterol include salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies.

Avoid artificial trans fats: Artificial trans fats have many negative health effects due to their inflammatory properties. There are two types of trans fats. One kind occurs naturally in animal products, including full-fat dairy. In contrast, the artificial trans fats found in margarines and processed foods are created by adding hydrogen to unsaturated vegetable and seed oils. These fats are also known as industrial trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats. Research has shown that, in addition to increasing inflammation and contributing to several health problems, these artificial trans fats may lower HDL cholesterol levels. (excerpt)

The writer is a registered dietitian. The write-up has also appeared on

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