The Best Foods to Raise Good HDL Cholesterol Levels

HDL cholesterol is vital for your health. Learn what you can eat to boost your HDL cholesterol levels, the natural way.

A senior man eating foods to lower HDL cholesterol with his young adult son

Cholesterol is a misunderstood topic. A doctor or health expert may have urged you to lower your cholesterol levels to keep your heart healthy. But that’s not the whole story. Did you know that there are two major types of cholesterol? And did you know that only one kind of cholesterol is bad? In fact, high-density cholesterol (HDL) is good for you and necessary for good health. It’s high levels of low-density cholesterol (LDL) that can negatively impact your health.

Keep reading to learn more about how to boost your HDL cholesterol levels, how to reduce your bad cholesterol, and how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help you achieve better heart health.

What is Cholesterol and What Does It Do? 

A female doctor takes an older woman's blood pressure
If you have high levels of bad cholesterol, there are proactive steps you can take to improve your health.

Cholesterol has a bad reputation, which isn’t fair since it’s so important for so many functions. This type of fat, or lipid, helps your body make cell membranes, many hormones, including estrogen and testosterone, and vitamin D. Cholesterol is also essential for the production of bile — a substance that helps your break down foods and aids in the absorption of nutrients in your intestines. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs.

Bad Cholesterol 

High levels of LDL cholesterol can be downright dangerous. If your levels of LDL cholesterol are too high, it can increase the risk of having plaque build up along the inner walls of your arteries. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Chief TCM physician Chu I Ta at Real Health Medical Clinic in Singapore urges patients to take cholesterol seriously. He cautions that “there are no early signs or symptoms for high cholesterol. Thus, it is considered an “invisible killer.” Only blood tests are able to detect whether a patient is suffering from high cholesterol.”

Physician Chu cautions that if you’re experiencing symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, poor digestion, chest pain, myocardial infarction, and even pre-stroke, it may be too late. Fortunately, you can change the course of diseases caused by high cholesterol by making a few changes to your lifestyle and diet.

Good Cholesterol 

What is HDL cholesterol? Unlike LDL, which can clog your arteries, HDL moves bad cholesterol to the liver, where it can be broken down and expelled from the body. That’s why it’s often referred to as good cholesterol.

While there are many differences between Western medicine and TCM, they are in alignment on the impact of high cholesterol levels. Physician Chu explains that TCM doesn’t define terms like good cholesterol or bad cholesterol, but does recognize that high levels of cholesterol can lead to heart attacks and strokes if left untreated. And, they both agree that a good diet can raise your HDL cholesterol levels.

The Best Foods, Herbs, and Supplements to Increase HDL Levels 

A variety of food rich in omega-3 fatty acids sit on a kitchen table
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids help increase your levels of HDL cholesterol.

While it’s still advisable to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol and to get regular exercise, the food you put in your body has a huge impact on cholesterol levels. Here are some suggestions on what to eat, what not to eat, and some dietary supplements that can help you increase your HDL cholesterol.

The best foods to eat

Fats
Believe it or not, fat is good for you — but some fats are better than others. So-called healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to lower LDL levels. Get your omega-3s by eating fish, like salmon, tuna, and sardines. If you’re vegetarian, both flax seeds and chia seeds are great plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Eating avocado isn’t just a trend. It’s a powerful way to help boost your levels of HDL cholesterol. The oleic acid in avocados also helps with lowering inflammation. Of course, it’s still important to pay attention to serving sizes because avocados are calorie-dense.

Nuts
If you are looking for a healthy snack, try nuts. Nuts are full of healthy fats and fiber. But what are the best nuts for HDL cholesterol? Here’s a list of the most heart-healthy nuts.

  • Brazil nuts
  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Pecans
  • Hazelnuts


High-Fiber Fruits and Vegetables
No article about eating a healthy diet is complete without mentioning fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that a diet high in fiber reduces your risk of heart disease. So, start eating fruits like prunes, apples, and pears or vegetables like artichokes, carrots, and beets.

Whole Grain
Just like fruits and vegetables, 100% whole grains contain fiber and many nutrients. Try adding more oatmeal, brown rice, barley, bulgur, or even popcorn to your diet.

Foods to avoid

To bring down LDL cholesterol levels, it’s important to know what kind of foods to avoid. Just like there is both bad and good cholesterol, there are both good and bad fats. Bad fats include saturated fat and trans fat. These fats are found in foods like:

  • Red meats like beef, pork, and lamb
  • Processed meats like deli meats, bacon, ham, and salami
  • Fried foods

You don’t have to completely eliminate these foods from your diet unless your doctor has told you to. Yet, it is important to cut down on the amount of this type of food that you eat. Added sugars and excess alcohol can also raise LDL levels, so be mindful of what you’re eating and drinking on a daily basis.

Supplements

Sometimes it’s not possible to get all the nutrition you need from your diet. If you’ve already changed your diet and want a little more help with managing your cholesterol levels, try dietary supplements. But what natural supplements can help lower cholesterol? Here’s a list of some supplements you might consider taking.

TCM herbal treatments

A platter of Chinese herbs is surrounded by small bowls of herbs
A Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment can help you lower your cholesterol.

To get the most effective herbal treatment, consider working with a TCM doctor. Physician Chu reminds us that a TCM treatment on western diseases can be varied is due to the differences between individual body constitutions. The herbs listed below are examples of commonly prescribed herbs for high cholesterol. Your treatment will likely look different since your own physician will take into account your unique symptoms when prescribing herbs.

In TCM, these herbs are to help and strengthen the spleen function (spleen qi).  

  • Salvia miltiorrhiza
  • Lotus leaf
  • Cyathula officinalis
  • Turmeric
  • Atractylodes lancea

You may be prescribed these herbs for the protection of liver health and regulated liver qi or flow of energy throughout the body.  

  • Bupleuri Radix
  • Scutellaria baicale
  • Coptis chinensis
  • Rhubarb
  • Tangerine peel

Your doctor may prescribe these herbs for the circulation of blood, especially for elderly patients. These herbs also improve spleen and kidney health.

  • Ginseng
  • Atractylodes macrocephala
  • Poria
  • Wolfberry
  • Fallopiamultiflora
  • Rehmannia glutinosa
  • Fructus Ligustri Lucidi

Cholesterol levels have an enormous impact on your health. But now that you are armed with the knowledge of what cholesterol does in the body and how you can boost levels of good HDL cholesterol, you have the power to live a healthier life. Share this article with your friends and family so they can enjoy good health.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  2. American Heart Association. 2020. What is Cholesterol?. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. 2019. How it’s made: Cholesterol production in your body. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. n.d. Cholesterol in the Blood. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  5. Mayo Clinic. 2021. Cholesterol-lowering supplements may be helpful. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  6. Mayo Clinic. 2020. HDL cholesterol: How to boost your ‘good’ cholesterol. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  7. American Heart Association. 2020. HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  8. US National Library of Medicine. 2011. Chinese herbal medicines for hypercholesterolemia. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  9. American Heart Association. 2020. The Skinny on Fats. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  10. US National Library of Medicine. 2019. Dietary Fiber, Atherosclerosis, and Cardiovascular Disease. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]

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