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Cholesterol has been getting a bad rap, but there’s more to it than that. Cholesterol can be classified as either good or bad cholesterol, depending on where it sits in your body and what it does to the rest of your body tissues.
The good kind, known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, actually helps increase heart health by lowering the risk of developing heart disease or high blood pressure.
Foods that increase good cholesterol naturally are easier to incorporate into your diet than you might think!
One egg contains about 185 milligrams of choline, which is great for raising HDL levels.
Eat eggs as a part of your regular diet and you may be able to reduce your chances of developing heart disease.
The yolk can also be used as an emulsifier in foods, so don’t throw it away just because it’s high in cholesterol!
If you’re concerned about excess cholesterol in eggs, avoid eating more than four per week.
Although these are full of HDL-boosting nutrients, they do have high amounts of saturated fat eating too many in one day can negate all the benefits.
In addition to being high in cholesterol-improving nutrients, eggs are relatively inexpensive and go with almost any meal or dish you could want (from breakfast food to smoothies).
Eggs are incredibly nutritious despite having a large amount of cholesterol inside them. One whole egg has as much protein as two ounces of meat does.
2) Fatty Fish
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines are some of nature’s richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
These healthy fats help lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to a host of other health benefits including improved vision, brain function and mood.
Most Americans don’t get enough omega-3s from their diet and taking an omega-3 supplement is an easy way to increase your intake.
Just make sure you pick one that doesn’t contain potentially harmful heavy metals.
You can choose from two types of supplements: krill oil or fish oil (the latter contains DHA as well as EPA).
Legumes, such as lentils and beans, can increase your HDL cholesterol levels.
Just one cup of cooked lentils contains almost one-third of your daily recommended value for dietary fiber.
Fiber helps to reduce cholesterol in a number of ways: It binds with bile acids in your intestines; it reduces fat absorption, and it increases feelings of fullness, so you are less likely to overeat.
Reducing dietary fat by eating a high-fiber diet will also help lower your LDL and total cholesterol levels.
A high-fiber diet may help reduce total serum cholesterol by 5 percent to 10 percent over three months.
A handful of nuts has more than 100 percent of your daily recommended amount of vitamin E, which boosts good cholesterol and may decrease the risk for heart disease.
Additionally, walnuts are a good source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid shown to reduce inflammation in arteries.
While you don’t want to go overboard too much ALA can actually increase your risk for heart disease.
Eating a handful a day can help reduce levels of harmful LDL cholesterol ((low-density lipoprotein also known as bad cholesterol) and maintain healthy levels of HDL cholesterol.
Walnuts also contain a large number of antioxidants, which protect against cardiovascular disease by scavenging damaging free radicals.
What about other types? Studies have shown almonds also increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.
5) Whole Grains
Whole grains contain a type of dietary fiber called beta-glucan.
This fiber helps improve your cholesterol by increasing good HDL levels and reducing bad LDL levels.
Two servings per day are associated with a 20% lower risk of heart disease.
Oatmeal, brown rice, millet, quinoa and barley are all whole grains you can add to your diet to boost your HDL cholesterol.
While some foods may be fortified with extra omega-3 fatty acids like chia seeds, flaxseed or walnuts, these have not been proven effective for improving lipid profiles.
Avoid trans fats: Excess intake of trans fats has been found to increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce HDL (good) cholesterol.
Trans fats may also increase inflammation in blood vessels which is bad news for your heart health, so look out for foods containing partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats!
Opt for olive oil: Studies show that regular consumption of olive oil may help you maintain healthy blood pressure levels and keep triglycerides in check as well as keep your body’s natural antioxidants high.
Avocados are packed with monounsaturated fat and fiber, which help to raise your HDL cholesterol levels.
In fact, people who regularly ate avocados in one study had an 11 percent higher level of HDL.
Avocados also contain a unique fatty acid called oleic acid, which has been linked to increased heart health.
Try adding fresh avocado slices to your sandwich or eating it whole on top of a salad for a healthy dose of good cholesterol-boosting fats!
Soy is rich in compounds called phytosterols, which are structurally similar to cholesterol.
These compounds can block cholesterol absorption in your intestines and reduce your body’s production of LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Soy is also a source of fat-soluble antioxidants called isoflavones, which can increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Studies have found that soy reduces total and LDL cholesterol by roughly 4 percent and may reduce blood pressure by 2 percent as well.
Certain teas contain high levels of catechins, a type of antioxidant which has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol.
Studies suggest drinking at least four cups per day may raise HDL cholesterol by up to 3 percent.
Green tea is typically considered more effective than black and oolong tea for raising HDL, probably because it contains more catechins.
In general, studies have found an inverse correlation between the consumption of green tea and cholesterol levels.
As such, drinking green tea has been proposed as a method to prevent or treat cardiovascular disease due to its ability to decrease bad (LDL) cholesterol while increasing good (HDL) cholesterol.
Flaxseeds are a great way to boost your HDL cholesterol levels.
They contain omega-3 fatty acids and lignans, both of which have been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Sprinkle flaxseed on salad or cereal, add them to smoothies, or blend them into your morning juice.
Mix with other seeds like sesame and chia for even more fiber and nutrients.
If you can’t get used to their nutty flavor, mix ground flax with whole wheat flour or in baked goods like cookies.
Remember: 1 tablespoon of ground flax is about equal to 2 tablespoons of whole seeds.
Ground flax won’t go rancid as quickly as whole ones, so save time by not having to grind them yourself.
10) Olive Oil
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats. These have been shown to raise HDL levels.
The Mediterranean diet is famous for including lots of olive oil in its dishes and also encouraging people to eat more fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.
Any diet that reduces saturated fat intake will be good for your cholesterol levels.
According to one study, when people switched from a high-fat to a low-fat diet, their LDL (bad) cholesterol decreased by 27 percent and their HDL (good) cholesterol increased by 15 percent.
Lifestyle Tips To Improve Your Cholesterol Levels
A healthy diet and regular exercise are two of the most important factors in maintaining good cholesterol levels.
In addition to choosing foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in certain types of fish like salmon, albacore tuna and sardines as well as dark leafy greens, almonds and avocados; try to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine.
If you need help finding activities you enjoy, consult with a personal trainer or check out new fitness classes being offered at local gyms.
The best way to lower your overall cholesterol and improve your HDL is to eat a healthy diet.
The above 10 foods are especially great at reducing inflammation in your body, boosting HDL levels, and improving heart health.
While it may be tempting to focus solely on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol numbers when measuring heart health, remember that everything is interconnected.
A range of factors, from blood pressure levels to triglyceride levels, are crucial for assessing heart health, and all must be considered when you’re on a mission to improve your numbers.
If you want to lower cholesterol, making smart food choices can give you a head start on lowering LDLs while simultaneously improving HDLs.