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How To Raise Your ‘Good’ Cholesterol

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Did you know that there is one kind of blood cholesterol that is actually good for you to have lots of? It’s HDL cholesterol.

HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein, often called the “good” type of cholesterol. To help remember the different types of cholesterol, you can think of the H in HDL cholesterol as standing for “healthy”.

HDL is beneficial because its purpose is to remove other types of cholesterol from your bloodstream, says Claire Sullivan, MD, a cardiologist with UH Harrington Heart and Vascular Institute. It does this by carrying unhealthy LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and to the liver, where it can be broken down and removed from the body.

“As a result, having an HDL level within the recommended range is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke,” Dr. Sullivan says.

The recommendations for HDL cholesterol are a little unique because higher levels are actually better. There are also slightly different recommendations for men and women.

Men are considered to be at risk if their HDL level is less than 40 mg/dL, while women are considered at risk if their HDL level is less than 50. However, the ideal range for all adults is 60 or higher.

It’s best to focus on lifestyle changes to improve your HDL cholesterol, Dr. Sullivan says. Nutritional changes that can improve your HDL cholesterol include eating more healthy fats and limiting unhealthy fats.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats contain omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which help increase HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol.

Omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, mackerel, sea bass, herring, oysters, sardines, anchovies, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, edamame, kidney beans, soybean oil.

Omega-3s are an essential fat that the body cannot make on its own, so we have to get what we need from the food that we eat. Fish are the best sources of omega-3s, but they can be found in some plants as well as some fortified foods and fish oil supplements.

Monounsaturated fats: extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, avocados, peanut butter, almonds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, olives

Polyunsaturated fats: corn oil, oil-based salad dressings, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, soybean oil, walnuts, flaxseed

Good sources of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats include plant oils that are typically liquid at room temperature, as well as nuts and seeds.

Fats to Avoid

Trans fats have an negative impact on your blood cholesterol by lowering the good HDL cholesterol and increasing the bad LDL cholesterol. They also increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Common sources of trans fats include: fried food, processed desserts, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, stick margarine, shortening and coffee creamers.

Trans fats are listed on nutrition labels, but you should also look for partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredients list.

Other Ways To Improve Your HDL

In addition to nutrition, lifestyle changes that can raise your HDL include physical activity, smoking cessation and weight loss, Dr. Sullivan says.

Moderate physical activity is good for your overall health, but it can specifically help raise HDL. If you aren’t currently physically active, begin working toward at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week.

“A good place to start is just to start sitting less and moving more,” Dr. Sullivan says.

Smoking cigarettes is associated with low HDL levels. So quitting smoking can allow your HDL cholesterol to return to a healthier level and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Moderate weight loss – even just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight – has been shown to improve cholesterol levels along with blood pressure and blood sugar.

“Work on making small changes with your nutrition and activity routines. For example, swap out sugary drinks for water, try taking a short walk during a break,” Dr. Sullivan says.

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UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute offers more options for cardiovascular care close to home with multiple locations across Northern Ohio. Ongoing investments in our local facilities ensure our team has the latest tools and therapies available to continue to deliver truly personalized care for patients where and when they need it most. Learn more about UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.