Through our study of cholesterol it is clear that the main focus should be on the ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL). We gain the most benefit by learning how to reduce bad cholesterol as a high level of LDL is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis. However, there is some indication that raising the amount of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) in your blood may help reduce your risk of heart disease. It is thought that HDL helps to clean out cholesterol from your arteries, thus decreasing the amount of plaque that builds up. It is because of this that many people are interested in foods that raise HDL cholesterol levels.
HDL cholesterol is not something that shows up in the nutritional value for each type of food. It is not like protein or carbohydrates, which are easy to find on the back of food packaging. In fact, HDL is not something that is even contained within any type of food. So, how do we get HDL from food? Instead of looking for foods that contain HDL we are looking for foods to increase HDL levels.
There are two major groups of food that help to raise HDL cholesterol, monounsaturated fats and soluble fiber. Let’s consider these two groups and take a look at the foods that raise good cholesterol.
Of all of the fats that are available in our food, this is one fat that is considered ‘good’ for you. While you should decrease the amount of saturated fats and trans fats in your diet, it is actually good to have some monounsaturated fats. Here is a list of foods high in monounsaturated fats:
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Almond butter
- Peanut butter
Adding fiber to your diet is one of the best ways to control cholesterol. It not only can increase HDL levels but is known to decrease LDL levels. The top foods to manage cholesterol all have high levels of dietary (soluble) fiber. These include:
- Oatmeal – steel cut, old fashioned, and instant oatmeal all are good options
- Flax seeds
- Soybeans (edamame)
- Sunflower seeds
Other foods that increase HDL
There are other foods that are know to increase the levels of good cholesterol. Try to incorporate some of these in your diet as well.
- Cranberry juice
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids – fish (salmon and mackerel are best), spinach, nuts, flaxseeds
With careful planning you can easily add some foods that raise HDL cholesterol levels to your diet. Just be aware that managing HDL is considered not as important as managing LDL. The good news is that many of the foods that are good at raising HDL levels also help to decrease LDL levels.