These 12 foods will help you lower bad cholesterol & triglyceride, improve overall cholesterol levels and also HDL to LDL cholesterol ratio.
What is Good Cholesterol (HDL)?
When we talk about cholesterol, generally what comes to our mind is “bad” cholesterol (LDL). LDLs are “bad” types of cholesterol because they accumulate and form plaques inside the blood vessel walls.
On the other hand, there’s also a “good” kind of cholesterol, the kind your body needs.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the bad cholesterol) is the bad kind that we need to keep under control. In contrast, HDL being the “good” or “helpful” cholesterol is that we will want to have more. It picks up plaque buildup and extra cholesterol in your arteries and transports them to your liver – where they are broken down and excreted from your body. So, HDL helps cut down on the risks of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Keep reading to learn more about HDL and what foods you should be eating to improve your HDL ratio in relation to total cholesterol.
What are healthy HDL levels?
A good HDL level is 60 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL) or above. An HDL level below 40 mg/dL is considered low. The healthy range is between 40 and 60 mg/dl, but over 60mg/dl is optimal. (Source)
Does your food impact cholesterol?
Our diet can affect cholesterol levels for the better. Contrary to what we used to think, the latest research says – eating foods that have cholesterol (think eggs) – do not affect our blood cholesterol directly. What impacts is too much added sugars, trans fats, too much saturated fats, and refined grains. They increase your LDL & total cholesterol levels.
The things that increase HDL levels are actually not food, but avoiding many medical conditions and environmental factors:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Type-2 diabetes
Following are the other factors that contribute in improving HDL:
Regular exercise helps boost HDL concentrations. Also, there are some hormones such as estrogen or thyroid that are associated with increased HDL.
Restricting intake of unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats, lower your LDL. This in turn improves your HDL-to-LDL ratio.
In addition to the all above, eating the right foods can also help in improving HDL-to-LDL ratio.
Foods To Boost Good Cholesterol (HDL) & Improve HDL to LDL Ratio
Here’s the list of such foods. Try to include more of these foods in your everyday diet.
Olive oil contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and is full of anti-inflammatory compounds, oleic acid & elenolide, which can help improve HDL cholesterol levels and reduce risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Use extra-virgin olive oil as dressings on salads and add in sauces to flavor foods once they’re cooked.
Add chopped olives to salads or throw them in to soups.
Try to cook on low temperatures and use extra-virgin olive oil in place of other oils and fats because at high temperature extra-virgin olive oil breaks down.
(i) Make sure to use extra-virgin olive oil in moderation, as it’s high in calories.
(ii) Experts believe that a Mediterranean-style diet rich in extra virgin olive oil improves vital HDL cholesterol functions such as excreting extra bad cholesterol out of the heart’s blood vessels, lowering the risks of formation of plaques.
[Here is your complete guide on “How To Keep Cholesterol Levels in healthy range“]
Beans & Legumes
One of the most important ingredients in boosting your HDL cholesterol is getting sufficient soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can help prevent the absorption of LDL (bad) cholesterol, which helps in maintaining a healthier HDL to LDL cholesterol ratio. Beans and legumes are rich source of soluble fiber and B vitamins that help improve our heart functioning.
Black beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, navy beans, lentils, and others. Oh, my! They come in so many versatile shapes, sizes and flavors, and are affordable too, making them great for any occasion or budget.
Note: A review of 26 studies reported that eating just a half cup of beans everyday can help reduce LDL cholesterol by an average of 6.6 mg/dL, leading to improved LDL-to-HDL ratio.
Similar to beans and legumes, whole grains have good amount of soluble fiber and vitamins. And soluble fiber is known to sweep away excessive LDL cholesterol, this in turn improves HDL to LDL cholesterol ratio.
Incorporate at least two servings of whole grains everyday. That’s just as simple as having a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, a whole-grain bread at lunch, and a side of brown rice at dinner.
Note: There is available a wide choice of whole grains such as:
(i) Whole-grain bread in place of white bread or whole-grain pasta instead of refined grain pasta.
(ii) Pair brown or wild rice, quinoa or barley with a stir-fry or salad.
Oats are packed with soluble fiber, and fiber can help keep bad cholesterol from getting absorbed into your bloodstream. And more so, as some of that soluble fiber comes in the form of beta glucan, a fiber type that is associated with lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Getting three grams of beta glucan everyday has been shown to improve heart health — and you can get about half that amount from 3/4 cup of dry oats. (Source)
Fruits with a plenty of fiber, such as prunes, berries, apples, and pears, can reduce your LDL level, and in turn improve your HDL to LDL ratio.
Cut up and throw them in to a bowl of oatmeal or cereal, or toss them into your blender and make a delicious smoothie. They’re just as great when eaten plain, either as a mid afternoon snack or an after-dinner treat.
Here are two – my favorites:
Berries are some of the high-fiber fruits. The combination of fiber and antioxidants compounds like anthocyanins, phenolic acids, stilbenes, tannins, and carotenoids in berries helps keep LDL cholesterol under control, thereby improves the ratio of HDL to LDL ratio. Plus, berries are a delicious way to up your fruit intake. Toss them into a plain, unsweetened yogurt or smoothie, or add to a salad for a sweet flavor.
You have many options to choose from:
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and cranberries
An apple a day… and I don’t have to tell you the rest. This crunchy fruit is a rich source of pectin, which can reduce LDL cholesterol to improve your HDL-to-LDL ratio.
Apples are also high in polyphenols. And according to a study published in 2013, the polyphenols can lower the risks of inflamed or clogged arteries by preventing LDL cholesterol from oxidizing.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are contained in certain types of fishes, can help reduce your LDL and boost the HDL cholesterol in your blood. Listed below are the fish types that contain significant amount of Omega-3 fatty acids.
These fats may not directly boost HDL, but they can certainly help reduce your triglycerides, a type of unhealthy fat in your body. They promote heart health in other ways, too, such as reducing blood pressure and lowering the risk for hazardous blood clots.
- Albacore tuna
- Rainbow trout
Aim for two servings of fish a week.
If you don’t eat fish, there are some vegan sources of omega-3s such as walnuts and chia seeds.
Flax seeds are rich source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Being a better plant-based source of omega-3s, the vegetarians must incorporate them in their daily diet
However, eat them in ground form. It’s hard for your body to break down them – meaning they pass through your body mostly intact, without leaving behind much of their nutrients.
You can sprinkle ground flax seed onto salads, yogurt, morning cereal, oatmeal, add to smoothies or baked goods.
Another option is to use flaxseed for salad dressings.
Much like fatty fish, chia seeds are a rich source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain good amount of fiber that can help to improve your overall cholesterol status.
Just like flax seeds, you can add them to cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, salads, or baked goods.
Chia seeds may be tiny, but they pack a serious wallop when it comes to nutrition and heart health.
Nuts, including walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, and others, are packed with heart-healthy unsaturated fats. They’re high in fiber too and have a substance called plant sterols. Plant sterols help to obstruct the absorption of cholesterol in your body.
Include them into your meals like as a snack. However, they’re high in calories – so, if you’re watching your calories, keep your nut portions in check.
Here are the two common healthy nuts:
They are rich source of polyunsaturated fats — heart-healthy fats that play an important role in improving your overall cholesterol ratio. Since, walnuts provide omega-3 fatty acids – so a good alternative for those who are not fan of fish.
Help yourself to 2 or 3 handfuls per day — as per a 2010 review of 25 studies, consuming that much amount could help reduce your LDL cholesterol by as much as 10 points (Source)
Just like olive oil and avocados, almonds are a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that can improve your overall cholesterol ratio.
They’re rich in phytosterols, plant compounds that are structurally similar to cholesterol and help prevent cholesterol from being absorbed in to your gut.
You can munch on whole almonds or eat almond butter.
Avocados are high in healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber, both of which make for a good combo in keeping your cholesterol at healthy levels.
You can add slices of avocado to salads, sandwiches or soups.
Important Tip for weight watchers: Remember to reach for low-calorie dippers, like carrots, radishes, and tomatoes in place of high-calorie, high-salt tortilla chips.
As per a recent review of 46 studies, eating just twenty-five grams of soy protein a day can reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 3 to 4 percent.
Including this food into your diet is an effective way to cut down on your meat consumption. So, it may be possible that the positive benefit seen between cholesterol levels and soy is because of eating less meat and eating more heart-healthy food, and not due to soy specifically.
(i) Not all soy foods are created equal. Your heart will benefit more by opting for minimally processed soy products — go for tofu, tempeh, or miso over deli slices or packaged soy burgers.
(ii) Avoid added sugar soy milk by opting for one that’s unsweetened.
(iii) Use extra-firm tofu if you love grilled dishes.
(iv) Steamed, unsalted edamame makes a great appetizer.
It’s packed with catechins, types of antioxidants that have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and improve overall cholesterol status.
A large, long-term study concluded that adults who sipped 5 cups of green tea everyday were 26 percent less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than “non-green tea” drinkers. (Source)
No doubt regular exercise plays an important role to improve your heart health and cholesterol levels. But your diet also plays an equally important role. The above-mentioned heart healthy foods do help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels while boosting overall “HDL to LDL” ratio.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, USA obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me age is just a number!”