High Density Lipoproteins:
Can You Boost HDL Levels with a Good Diet?

What are HDLs?

High density lipoproteins are macromolecules which transport cholesterol in the blood. They're denser than other lipoproteins because they contain more protein, and they transport approximately a third of our blood cholesterol.

Why are HDLs considered to be the "good cholesterol"?

Because studies have found a correlation between high levels of HDLs and good health. For instance, the Framingham Heart Study -- a massive multiyear study that tracked the behavior and dietary lifestyles of thousands of people in the Town of Framingham, Massachusetts -- found that higher levels of high density lipoproteins were associated with less risk for conditions like coronary artery disease.

What are optimal HDL levels?

The American Heart Association has the following guidelines:

Less than 40 milligrams per DL is problematic. Between 40 and 59 milligrams per DL is okay. Above 60 milligrams per DL is considered good and optimally healthy.

What are generally recommended ways to increase HDL levels?

  1. Take niacin -- Some studies suggest that this Vitamin B compound may be helpful in boosting your HDLs.
  2. Don’t rely on statins alone -- While drugs known as statins have been shown to reduce levels of LDLs, they generally tend to be ineffective at elevating HDL levels.
  3. Diet and exercise -- This tactic has been suggested by groups like the American Heart Association. And while individuals who exercise more and weigh less indeed tend to have higher HDL levels, this fact alone does not prove anything about how diet and exercise impact HDL profiles. It merely suggests a correlation between activity and good cholesterol. In fact, maybe people who exercise more and eat less are doing something else different -- for instance, eating fewer carbohydrates -- and this action boosts their HDL levels.
  4. Eat fish oils and omega-free fatty acids -- Low-carb and low-cal diet advocates butt heads on numerous issues, but almost every nutrition expert seems to concede that the so-called "good fats" are probably pretty healthy for you.
  5. Eat more fiber and less saturated fat -- This has been one of the boilerplate solutions offered by groups like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association for years. Many researchers find this advice dubious and instead urge restriction of simple carbohydrates as a better solution.

Return from High Density Lipoproteins to Glossary

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