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9 Ways to Increase Your “Good” HDL Cholesterol

Olive Oil in a Small Glass JugHigh-density
lipoprotein (HDL) is often referred to as the “good”
cholesterol.

Having high HDL levels helps carry cholesterol from your
arteries to your liver, where it can be used or excreted.

Having high levels of HDL also has antioxidant and
anti-inflammatory effects, and is linked to a reduced risk of
heart disease (1, 2).

Most health experts recommend minimum blood levels of 40 mg/dl
in men and 50 mg/dl in women.

While genetics definitely play a role, there are several other
factors that affect HDL levels.

Here are nine healthy ways to raise your “good” HDL
cholesterol.

1. Consume Olive Oil


Olive oil
is one of the healthiest fats around.

A large analysis of 42 studies with more than 800,000
participants found that olive oil was the only source of
monounsaturated fat that seemed to reduce heart disease risk
(3).

Research has shown that one of olive oil’s heart-healthy
effects is an increase in HDL cholesterol. This effect is
thought to be caused by antioxidants it contains called
polyphenols (4, 5, 6, 7).

Extra
virgin olive oil
has more polyphenols than more processed
olive oils, although the amount can still vary among different
types and brands.

One study gave 200 healthy young men about 2 tablespoons (25
ml) of different olive oils per day for three weeks.

The researchers found that participants’ HDL levels increased
significantly more after they consumed the olive oil with the
highest polyphenol content (6).

In another study, when 62 older adults consumed about 4
tablespoons (50 ml) of high-polyphenol extra virgin olive oil
every day for six weeks, their HDL cholesterol increased by 6.5
mg/dl, on average (7).

In addition to raising HDL levels, olive oil has been found to
boost HDL’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant function in
studies of older people and individuals with high cholesterol
levels (7, 8, 9).

Whenever possible, select high-quality, certified extra virgin
olive oils, which tend to be highest in polyphenols.



Bottom Line: Extra virgin olive oil with a
high polyphenol content has been shown to increase HDL levels
in healthy people, the elderly and individuals with high
cholesterol.

2. Follow a Low-Carb or Ketogenic Diet

Bowl of Salad With Chicken

Low-carb and ketogenic diets
provide a number of health benefits
, including weight loss
and reduced blood sugar levels.

They’ve also been shown to increase HDL cholesterol in people
who tend to have lower levels.

This includes those who are obese, insulin resistant or
diabetic (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17).

In one study, people with type 2 diabetes were split into two
groups.

One followed a diet consuming less than 50 grams of carbs per
day. The other followed a high-carb diet.

Although both groups lost weight, the low-carb group’s HDL
cholesterol increased almost twice as much as the high-carb
group’s did (14).

In another study, obese people who followed a
low-carb diet
experienced an increase in HDL cholesterol of
5 mg/dl overall.

Meanwhile, in the same study, the participants who ate a
low-fat, high-carb diet showed a decrease in HDL
cholesterol (15).

This response may partially be due to the higher levels of fat
people typically consume on low-carb diets.

One study in overweight women found that diets high in meat and
cheese increased HDL levels by 5–8%, compared to a higher-carb
diet (18).

What’s more, in addition to raising HDL cholesterol,
very-low-carb diets have been shown to decrease triglycerides
and improve several other risk factors for heart disease
(13, 14, 16, 17).

Bottom Line: Low-carb and ketogenic diets
typically increase HDL cholesterol levels in people with
diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity.

3. Exercise Regularly

Aqua Blue Running Shoes

Being physically active is important for heart health.

Studies have shown that many different types of exercise are
effective at raising HDL cholesterol, including strength
training, high-intensity exercise and aerobic exercise
(19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24).

However, the biggest increases in HDL are typically seen with
high-intensity exercise.

One small study followed women who were living with polycystic
ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is linked to a higher risk of
insulin resistance. The study required them to perform
high-intensity exercise three times a week.

The exercise led to an increase in HDL cholesterol of 8 mg/dL
after 10 weeks. The women also showed improvements in other
health markers, including decreased insulin resistance and
improved arterial function (23).

In a 12-week study, overweight men who performed high-intensity
exercise experienced a 10% increase in HDL cholesterol.

In contrast, the low-intensity exercise group showed only a 2%
increase and the endurance training group experienced no change
(24).

However, even lower-intensity exercise seems to increase HDL’s
anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities, whether or not
HDL levels change (20, 21, 25).

Overall, high-intensity exercise such as high-intensity
interval training (HIIT) and high-intensity circuit training
(HICT) may boost HDL cholesterol levels the most.

Bottom Line: Exercising several times per
week can help raise HDL cholesterol and enhance its
anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. High-intensity
forms of exercise may be especially effective.

4. Add Coconut Oil to Your Diet

A Jar of Coconut Oil and a Teaspoon

Studies have shown that
coconut oil
may reduce appetite, increase metabolic rate
and help protect brain health, among other benefits.

Some people may be concerned about coconut oil’s effects on
heart health due to its high saturated fat content.

However, it appears that coconut oil is actually quite heart
healthy.

Coconut oil tends to raise HDL cholesterol more than many other
types of fat.

In addition, it may improve the ratio of
low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad”
cholesterol, to HDL cholesterol. Improving this ratio reduces
heart disease risk (26, 27, 28, 29).

One study examined the health effects of coconut oil on 40
women with excess belly fat. The researchers found that
participants who took coconut oil daily experienced increased
HDL cholesterol and a lower LDL-to-HDL ratio.

In contrast, the group who took soybean oil daily had a
decrease in HDL cholesterol and an increase in the
LDL-to-HDL ratio (29).

Most studies have found these health benefits occur at a dosage
of about 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil per day. It’s
best to incorporate this into cooking rather than eating
spoonfuls of coconut oil on their own.

Bottom Line: Consuming 2 tablespoons (30 ml)
of coconut oil per day may help increase HDL cholesterol
levels.

5. Stop Smoking

Man Smoking a Cigarette

Smoking increases the risk of many health problems, including
heart disease and lung cancer (30).

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One of its negative effects is a suppression of HDL
cholesterol.

Some studies have found that quitting smoking can increase HDL
levels. Indeed, one study found no significant differences in
HDL levels between former smokers and people who had never
smoked (31, 32, 33, 34, 35).

In a one-year study of more than 1,500 people, those who quit
smoking had twice the increase in HDL as those who resumed
smoking within the year. The number of large HDL particles also
increased, which further reduced heart disease risk (32).

One study followed smokers who switched from traditional
cigarettes to electronic cigarettes for one year. They found
that the switch was associated with an increase in HDL
cholesterol of 5 mg/dl, on average (33).

When it comes to the effect of nicotine replacement patches on
HDL levels, research results have been mixed.

One study found that nicotine replacement therapy led to higher
HDL cholesterol. However, other research suggests that people
who use nicotine patches likely won’t see increases in HDL
levels until after replacement therapy is completed (34, 36).

Even in studies where HDL cholesterol levels didn’t increase
after people quit smoking, HDL function improved, resulting in
less inflammation and other beneficial effects on heart health
(37).

Bottom Line: Quitting smoking can increase
HDL levels, improve HDL function and help protect heart
health.

6. Lose Weight

Scale Wrapped in Measuring Tape

When overweight and obese people
lose weight
, their HDL cholesterol levels usually increase.

What’s more, this benefit seems to occur whether weight loss is
achieved by calorie counting, carb restriction, intermittent
fasting, weight loss surgery or a combination of diet and
exercise (16, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42).

One study examined HDL levels in more than 3,000 overweight and
obese Japanese adults who followed a lifestyle modification
program for one year.

The researchers found that losing at least 6.6 lbs (3 kg) led
to an increase in HDL cholesterol of 4 mg/dl, on average
(41).

In another study, when obese people with type 2 diabetes
consumed calorie-restricted diets that provided 20–30% of
calories from protein, they experienced significant increases
in HDL cholesterol levels (42).

The key to achieving and maintaining healthy HDL cholesterol
levels is choosing the type of diet that makes it easiest for
you to lose weight and keep it off.

Bottom Line: Several methods of weight loss
have been shown to increase HDL cholesterol levels in people
who are overweight or obese.

7. Choose Purple Produce

Bunch of Purple Grapes

Consuming purple-colored fruits and vegetables is a delicious
way to potentially increase HDL cholesterol.

Purple produce contains antioxidants known as anthocyanins.

Studies using anthocyanin extracts have shown that they help
fight inflammation, protect your cells from damaging free
radicals and may also raise HDL cholesterol levels (43, 44, 45, 46).

In a 24-week study of 58 people with diabetes, those who took
an anthocyanin supplement twice a day experienced a 19%
increase in HDL cholesterol, on average, along with other
improvements in heart health markers (45).

In another study, when people with cholesterol issues took
anthocyanin extract for 12 weeks, their HDL cholesterol levels
increased by 13.7% (46).

Although these studies used extracts instead of foods, there
are several fruits and vegetables that are very high in
anthocyanins. These include eggplant, purple corn, red cabbage,
blueberries, blackberries and black raspberries.

Bottom Line: Consuming fruits and vegetables
rich in anthocyanins may help increase HDL cholesterol
levels.

8. Eat Fatty Fish Often

Man Squeezing Lemon Juice onto Salmon

The
omega-3 fats
in fatty fish provide major benefits to heart
health, including a reduction in inflammation and better
functioning of the cells that line your arteries (47, 48).

There’s some research showing that eating fatty fish or

taking fish oil
may also help raise low levels of HDL
cholesterol (49, 50, 51, 52, 53).

In a study of 33 heart disease patients, participants that
consumed fatty fish four times per week experienced an increase
in HDL cholesterol levels. The particle size of their HDL also
increased (52).

In another study, overweight men who consumed herring five days
a week for six weeks had a 5% increase in HDL cholesterol,
compared with their levels after eating lean pork and chicken
five days a week (53).

However, there are a few studies that found no increase in HDL
cholesterol in response to increased fish or omega-3 supplement
intake (54, 55).

In addition to herring, other types of fatty fish that may help
raise HDL cholesterol include salmon, sardines, mackerel and
anchovies.

Bottom Line: Eating fatty fish several times
per week may help increase HDL cholesterol levels and provide
other benefits to heart health.

9. Avoid Artificial Trans Fats

Artificial
trans fats
have many negative health effects due to their
inflammatory properties (56, 57).

There are two types of trans fats. One kind occurs naturally in
animal products, including full-fat dairy.

In contrast, the artificial trans fats found in margarines and
processed foods are created by adding hydrogen to unsaturated
vegetable and seed oils. These fats are also known as
industrial trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats.

Research has shown that, in addition to increasing inflammation
and contributing to several health problems, these artificial
trans fats may lower HDL cholesterol levels.

In one study, researchers compared how people’s HDL levels
responded when they consumed different margarines.

The study found that participants’ HDL cholesterol levels were
10% lower after consuming margarine containing partially
hydrogenated soybean oil, compared to their levels after
consuming palm oil (58).

Another controlled study followed 40 adults who had diets high
in different types of trans fats.

They found that HDL cholesterol levels in women were
significantly lower after they consumed the diet high in
industrial trans fats, compared to the diet containing
naturally occurring trans fats (59).

To protect heart health and keep HDL cholesterol in the healthy
range, it’s best to avoid artificial trans fats altogether.

Bottom Line: Artificial trans fats have been
shown to lower HDL levels and increase inflammation, compared
to other fats.

Take Home Message

Although your HDL cholesterol levels are partly determined by
your genetics, there are many things you can do to naturally
increase your own levels.

Fortunately, the practices that raise HDL cholesterol often
provide other health benefits as well.

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