Medically Reviewed by Sindhu Vas – Post Graduate in Nutrition and Food science
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that provides energy to the body’s cells produced from the carbohydrates and fats that we eat. So why do we call this waxy substance essential?
Two-thirds of the cholesterol is carried by LDL, the remaining one-third is attached to HDL. LDL tends to deposit cholesterol in the artery walls leading to atherosclerosis and increased risk of heart disease
Table of Contents
- Of healthy oils and fats in the diet
- Dark chocolate
- Fruit juice
- Glycemic index
- Fi(b)re it up
- Special foods
HDL normally makes up to 20-30% of total blood cholesterol. It protects against an accumulation of plaques or fatty deposits in the walls of the coronary arteries. Blood HDL levels should be at least 60 mg/dl help protect against heart disease.
Hence, it is important to lower cholesterol and one way to fight it is through good cholesterol foods.
“Science corner: Cholesterol is transported to and from the organs via lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein transports cholesterol from the liver to the organs.
High-density lipoproteins, on the other hand, transports cholesterol from the organs to the liver. The liver then disposes off the cholesterol from the body.”
Did you know, age and gender can also influence HDL levels!
Females have a special advantage thanks to estrogen. Higher estrogen levels are associated with high HDL and low LDL, thus increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. Females aged 50 or above have to be extra careful.
Similarly, men over 45 years should check their HDL levels as they are at-risk of altered lipid levels (high LDL, triglycerides, and low HDL).
Causes of Low HDL Cholesterol Levels
There are a number of conditions and lifestyles that play an important role in lowering HDL levels.
- Uncontrolled Diabetes: High blood glucose levels may contribute to lower HDL cholesterol levels, and also increase triglyceride and LDL levels. Control your blood sugar levels to get your HDL level back within a healthy range.
- Excess Weight: Carrying extra weight isn’t good for the body as it leads to a number of health conditions, including a decrease in your HDL levels. If you are obese, losing weight can increase these levels and lower the risk of heart disease.
- Poor Diet: The food that you eat plays a vital role to influence the HDL level. Do limit your saturated fat and substitute with monounsaturated fats which will raise your LDL level.
- Smoking: Smoking lowers the HDL level tremendously because of the chemicals present in a cigarette. Quit smoking to increase the HDL and prevent other chronic diseases including the risk of lung cancer.
Total cholesterol to HDL ratio should be below 5 to avoid being at risk for cardiovascular diseases.
We present to you 9 ways to increase the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol
1. Of healthy oils and fats in the diet
Research has shown that consuming oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids like corn, sunflower, soy could decrease cholesterol and increase HDL.
Fats containing monounsaturated fatty acids like in canola, olive oil, nuts, avocados could also cut LDL levels.
Nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts are rich in unsaturated fats, fibre, vitamin D, K, phytosterols, L-arginine and omega-3 fatty acids all of which have shown to raise the good cholesterol levels.
2. Dark chocolate
Consuming dark chocolate can help lower cholesterol in just a month. To lower the cholesterol choose products with high cocoa content that have the least amount of processing, which lowers the flavonoid content. The cocoa polyphenols in dark chocolate have shown to increase the concentration of HDL cholesterol .
The long-term daily consumption of yoghurt has shown to increase HDL cholesterol and lower the LDL: HDL ratio.  Full fat yogurt is packed with nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein, B vitamins, magnesium and phosphorous. The consumption of the low-fat dairy product is associated with reducing ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. It also lowers the risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. Yogurt also benefits intestinal health by providing friendly gut bacteria.
4. Fruit juice
According to the American society for clinical nutrition, orange juice when taken in about 750 ml daily improves blood lipid profiles and increases HDL levels. An orange will do wonders for lowering cholesterol. Fresh squeezed orange juice can lower cholesterol, studies have shown that people who consume orange juice increased their HDL levels by 21 and lowered their LDL/HDL ratio 16 per cent by drinking three glasses a day for a month.
Research shows that cranberry juice has a beneficial effect on increasing HDL cholesterol.
5. Glycemic index
Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index could increase the postprandial blood sugars and result in insulin insensitivity increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. On the contrary, research has shown low glycemic index foods to increase HDL  and are good for heart health.
Some of the low GI foods are oat bran, soy, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans etc. while processed foods like cakes, cookies, white bread have a high glycemic index.
6. Fi(b)re it up
The soluble fibre present in oats contains B-glucan which lowers LDL and increases HDL. Other sources of soluble fibre are rice bran, barley, dried beans and peas, prunes, apples.
Oatmeal contains soluble fiber which reduces LDL, oatmeal can reduce the absorption of cholesterol in your bloodstream. Eat about 5-10 grams of soluble fiber a day to decrease the LDL level. One serving of oatmeal contains 3 – 4 grams of fiber, but if you add fruits like banana or berries, you’ll get even more fiber.
7. Special foods
Onions protect against elevated cholesterol and protect against artery clotting damage by increasing HDL. Soy lowers LDL without reducing HDL as well as provide antioxidant protection. Eating soybeans and food made with it, like tofu or soy milk have a massive effect on lowering LDL. Consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day can lower LDL by 5-6 per cent.
Alcohol in moderation increase HDL cholesterol but care should be taken not to take it in excess as it will cause more harm than good. It increases the transport rate of apolipoprotein A1 and A2, thus increasing HDL .
Exercise plays a very important role in addition to the dietary modifications in improving HDL and lowering LDL levels. It causes an increase in lipoprotein lipase levels during intense exercise.