New research questions the benefit of drugs to raise HDL, but lifestyle steps to boost good cholesterol are still recommended.
There are two main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Lipoproteins are made of fat and proteins. Cholesterol moves through your body while inside lipoproteins.
HDL is known as “good cholesterol” because it transports cholesterol to your liver to be expelled from your body. HDL helps rid your body of excess cholesterol, so it’s less likely to end up in your arteries.
LDL is called “bad cholesterol” because it takes cholesterol to your arteries, where it may collect in artery walls. Too much cholesterol in your arteries may lead to a buildup of plaque known as atherosclerosis. This can increase the risk of blood clots in your arteries. If a blood clot breaks away and blocks an artery in your heart or brain, you may have a stroke or heart attack.
One of the fundamentals of heart-healthy living is that if your LDL (bad) cholesterol is high, you need to take steps to lower it. After all, bad cholesterol contributes to artery-clogging plaque deposits. On the flip side, doctors encourage us also to raise our HDL (good) cholesterol. That’s because people with high HDL tend to be at lower risk of heart disease.
How to boost your good cholesterol?
- Exercise more: Vigorous exercise is best for boosting your HDL (good) cholesterol, but any extra exercise is better than none.
- Lose weight: If you are overweight, losing 5% to 10% of your current weight can raise HDL, along with reducing blood pressure and blood sugar.
- Avoid trans fats: Not eating these artificial fats — found in hard margarine, many baked goods, and fried fast foods — raises HDL cholesterol. Reducing your intake also helps to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Cut back on refined carbs: Switch from refined carbohydrates (such as white bread) to whole grains. It also helps to add more lean protein to your diet.
- Don’t smoke: Quitting smoking improves HDL and helps your health in many other ways.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation: Moderate drinking means one or two drinks per day. Moderate alcohol consumption supports healthy HDL levels, but it isn’t something you should start doing specifically to boost good cholesterol.