By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., "Ask Our Nutritionist,"November/December 2011
It’s important to know your level of HDL cholesterol. All adults should have this checked every five years along with their lipid levels (total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides). High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is “good” because it carries excess cholesterol away from your arteries to your liver, where it’s cleared from the body. When HDL falls to 50 mg/dL or lower for women or is ≤40mg/dL for men, it signals an increased risk of heart disease. Levels of ≥60 mg/dL may be protective.
While genes strongly influence HDL levels, you can improve your numbers modestly. Regular physical activity is most effective, but diet plays a role too.
Next: Easy Diet Tips to Help Boost HDL >>
A recent report in the British Medical Journal suggests drinking alcohol in moderation (up to one drink daily for women, up to two for men) may boost HDL. (Don’t take this as advice to start drinking if you don’t already.) Perhaps more important is eating a diet moderate in fat—25 to 35% of calories. Most of that should come from polyunsaturated fats (nuts, seeds and their oils and omega-3 fats in oily fish) and monounsaturated ones (olive oil, avocados).
Upping your intake of healthy fats and eating them in place of trans fats (in margarine and commercial baked goods), saturated fat (in fatty meats and full-fat dairy) and even refined carbohydrates can also lower your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, the real villain when it comes to heart disease.
Bottom line: Focusing on an overall healthy lifestyle is the best way to keep your lipid levels as healthy as can be.