If you want to lower your risks of heart disease, you have to lower your bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good one (HDL)
Cholesterol is carried through your blood attached to proteins. The cholesterol-protein package is called a lipoprotein.
Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL): carries cholesterol throughout your body, depositing it along the walls of your arteries. Cholesterol buildup forms plaques that make arteries hard and narrow — ultimately increasing the risk of coronary artery disease. Hence LDL is bad news.
High Density Lipoproteins (HDL): picks up excess cholesterol in your blood and takes it back to your liver for disposal. The higher your HDL cholesterol, the less bad cholesterol you’ll have in your blood.
For people at high risks for developing coronary artery disease, just lowering LDL might not be sufficient. They may need to increase their HDL.
In one study participants with the highest HDL levels had half the risk of developing coronary artery disease as did those with the lowest HDL levels.
Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. Most people should aim for an HDL level of 60 mg/dL or above. An HDL level below 40 mg/dL increases the risk of heart disease.
For the average man, HDL cholesterol ranges from 40 to 50 mg/dL. Thanks to female sex hormones — which have a positive effect on HDL cholesterol — the average woman fares better, with HDL cholesterol ranging from 50 to 60 mg/dL. But both men and women can benefit from increasing those averages.
What changes can you do to meet your HDL target?
Don’t smoke. Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol and increases your blood’s tendency to clot. If you smoke, quit.
Lose weight. Excess weight take a toll on HDL cholesterol. Start loosing weight: for every 2 pounds you lose, your HDL may increase by .35 mg/dL. . Aim for a weight loss goal to achieve a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or below. To keep your weight in a healthy range, focus on permanent changes to your eating and exercise habits.
Get more physical activity. In one study, regular aerobic exercise increased HDL cholesterol by 3 percent to 9 percent in otherwise healthy sedentary adults. Try to get at least 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity on most days of the week. If possible, exercise every day. Take a brisk daily walk. Ride your bike. Swim laps. If you can’t fit in a long workout, break it up into smaller sessions spread throughout the day.
Choose healthier fats. A healthy diet includes some fat, but there’s a limit. In a heart-healthy diet, up to 25 percent to 35 percent of your total daily calories can come from fat — but saturated fat should account for less than 7 percent of your total daily calories. Avoid foods that contain trans and saturated fats, which raise LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL cholesterol. Instead, switch to products containing unsaturated fats (olive, canola, flaxseed, etc.)
Cut back on simple carbohydrates. Cakes, cookies and highly processed cereals and breads are high-glycemic foods that can lower your HDL and raise the levels of another fat in your bloodstream, triglycerides.
Add fiber. The soluble fiber found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains might boost your HDL.
Drink alcohol only in moderation. In some studies, moderate use of alcohol (particularly red wine) has been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol — but the benefits aren’t strong enough to recommend alcohol for anyone who doesn’t drink already. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. This means no more than one drink a day for women, and one to two drinks a day for men.