|A bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, a piece of fried chicken for lunch, a juicy rump steak sautéed in butter for dinner, and a bowl of ice cream at night aren’t ideal for your cholesterol. They are examples of sources of saturated and trans fat and can increase your LDL and total cholesterol levels.
The things that increase HDL are actually not food, but several medical and environmental factors. Avoiding the following increases your HDL:
- type 2 diabetes
Some hormones increase HDL concentrations, such as estrogen or thyroid hormone. Exercise and moderate alcohol consumption is associated with higher HDL, too. The right food choices can lower your LDL levels, which improves your HDL to LDL ratio. The Mediterranean diet is a good place to start. Research has shown it’s associated with better cholesterol and overall health. Start incorporating the following Mediterranean-style and HDL-friendly foods into your daily diet.
- Olive Oil – The type of heart-healthy fat found in olives and olive oil can lower the inflammatory impact of LDL cholesterol on your body. Swap extra-virgin olive oil for all your other oils and fats when cooking at low temperatures, since extra-virgin olive oil breaks down at high temperatures. Use the oil in salad dressings, sauces, and to flavour foods once they’re cooked. Sprinkle chopped olives on salads or add them to soups. Just be sure to use extra-virgin olive oil in moderation as it is high in calories.
- Beans and Legumes – Like whole grains, beans and legumes are a great source of soluble fibre. Reach for black beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, navy beans, lentils, and others. Canned beans contain about half as much folate as cooked dry beans. Folate is an important B vitamin that’s healthy for your heart. Beans and legumes are great in side dishes, like in our Spicy Red Kidney Bean and Corn Salad.
- Whole Grains – Whole grains, including bran, cereals, and brown or wild rice, may lower your LDL and total cholesterol. This in turn gives your HDL levels a percentage boost. That’s because they contain fibre — specifically soluble fibre, which is shown to help lower LDL.Have at least two servings of whole grains per day. That could be as simple as a comforting bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, 100% whole-grain bread at lunch, and a side dish of brown rice at dinner.
- High-fibre Fruit – Fruits with a lot of fibre, such as prunes, apples, and pears, can lower your LDL level, in turn raising your HDL level. Slice them up and stir them into cereal or oatmeal, or throw them into your blender and create a delicious smoothie. They’re just as great plain, too, either as a mid-afternoon snack or a treat after dinner.
- Fatty Fish – Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, can lower your LDL. Look for fattier options, such as:
Aim for two servings of fish per week. If you don’t like fish or can’t eat enough fish to fulfill your omega-3 goals, ask your doctor about fish oil supplements. These over-the-counter supplements can deliver more than 1,000 mg of omega-3-rich oil in each capsule. However, they still don’t deliver the same benefits as the food itself.
- Flax – Ground flax seeds and flax-seed oil also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Many vegetarians use flax seed as a source of omega-3 fatty acids because they’re one of the better plant-based sources of this heart-healthy fat. Make sure to buy ground flax seed. Whole flax seeds are almost impossible for your body to break down. This means they pass through your body largely intact and never leave behind any of their nutrients. Ground flax seed can be sprinkled onto your morning cereal, oatmeal, salads, dips, or yoghurt, or added to baked goods. Flax-seed oil is a welcome addition to salad dressings or smoothies.
- Nuts – Nuts, including Brazil nuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, and others, are filled with heart-healthy fats. They’re also high in fibre and contain a substance called plant sterols. Plant sterols block the absorption of cholesterol in your body. Eat a few grams for a snack or incorporate them into meals. Try a banana and walnut smoothie for a nutritious breakfast, or steam-sautéed green beans with almonds and parsley for an easy but elegant side dish. Just remember that if you’re watching your calories, keep your nut portions in check with a measuring cup or scale, since they’re high in calories.
- Chia seeds – Chia seeds are a good source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, and other healthy nutrients. Adding chia seeds to your diet may help lower LDL levels and decrease blood pressure. Like flax seeds, chia seeds are great when added to cereal, oatmeal, dips, salads, yoghurt, or smoothies. Unlike flax seeds, however, chia seeds can develop a somewhat slimy texture when they’re wet due to mucilaginous properties. If that’s a problem for you, consume chia seeds immediately, or try adding them to your baked goods in place of eggs. Today, because it’s growing in popularity, chia seeds are available in many food products at the grocery store.
- Avocado – The food world’s new favourite fruit is also one of the healthiest. Avocados are high in folate, a healthy monounsaturated fat. This type of fat lowers LDL and reduces your risk for stroke, heart attack, and heart disease. They’re also filled with fibre, which naturally helps keep cholesterol in check. Add slices of avocado to salads, soups, chillies, or sandwiches. Guacamole is a great option, too. Just be sure to reach for low-calorie dippers, like carrots, radishes, and tomatoes, instead of high-calorie, high-salt tortilla chips.
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- Soy – Soy-based products aren’t just for vegetarians. Incorporating this food into your diet is a great way to reduce your meat consumption. When people eat less meat, their LDL levels will most likely decrease, and their HDL levels will most likely increase. However, it’s possible that the positive benefit seen between soy and cholesterol levels is the result of eating less meat and eating more heart-healthy food, not because of soy specifically.
- Red wine – Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, including red wine, has been shown to raise HDL levels. It’s also been shown to lower your risk of heart disease. A moderate amount of alcohol is defined as just one glass per day for women and two glasses per day for men. However, red wine shouldn’t be consumed if you also have high triglycerides. If you don’t already drink, you shouldn’t start just for the heart-healthy benefits. Talk with your doctor about your drinking habits and whether they put you at an increased risk of any other condition.