The Best HDL Foods


Besides getting regular exercise and eliminating habits such as smoking, incorporate foods like oatmeal, fish and certain nuts into your diet to boost your HDL and improve your lipid profile. HDL is a beneficial form of cholesterol, and having lower levels raises the risk for heart disease. Foods don't contain HDL; rather, your body converts substances in your diet to LDL -- bad cholesterol -- and HDL. Saturated fat is known to raise LDL. Work with your health care provider to determine the best way to improve your lipid profile.

A salmon filet with rosemary and spices.
A salmon filet with rosemary and spices. (Image: Valeriya/iStock/Getty Images)

Go a Little Nutty on Brazil Nuts

Nuts are packed with nutrients and rich in unsaturated fats, and certain varieties, like Brazil nuts, have an immediate beneficial effect on HDL cholesterol. Scientists investigated the influence of eating Brazil nuts on the lipid profiles of healthy volunteers. They found a single 20-gram serving -- about 10 Brazil nuts, or a large handful -- significantly increased HDL cholesterol. The changes were evident nine hours following consumption, according to the authors. The results of the study were published in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.

Consideration: While eating a serving of Brazil nuts is beneficial, consuming too much too often can cause problems. Brazil nuts are very rich in selenium, which when consumed in very high amounts on a regular basis increases the risk of selenium toxicity. Symptoms include brittle hair and nails, gastrointestinal disturbance, fatigue, irritability and muscle weakness.

Brazil nuts in a heart shaped bowl and covering a table.
Brazil nuts in a heart shaped bowl and covering a table. (Image: IgorDutina/iStock/Getty Images)

Incorporate Oat Fiber

Oats contain a unique soluble fiber called beta-glucan that favorably influences cholesterol levels. This means foods like oatmeal and those made from sources like oat bran can help improve your lipid profile. To investigate this, researchers used bread formulated with beta-glucan from oats and observed the effect in overweight male volunteers with high cholesterol. After one week, the oat beta-glucan increased HDL by 27 percent and significantly lowered total cholesterol, according to the authors. The study was published in the March 2007 edition of the American Journal of Therapeutics.

A bowl of oatmeal next to a pitcher of milk and some apples.
A bowl of oatmeal next to a pitcher of milk and some apples. (Image: minadezhda/iStock/Getty Images)

Increase Your Fish Intake

Fish is known for benefits when it comes to heart health, and while the standard advice is to have two servings of fish per week, scientists assert that you may want to boost your intake. Researchers found that when people with characteristics of metabolic syndrome -- a collection of chronic diseases like high blood pressure -- increased their intake of fish to three or more servings per week, they experienced a boost in the size of HDL particles in their blood. This is critical since smaller, denser particles commonly contribute to atherosclerosis -- hardening of the arteries.

Choosing Fish: Avoid large fish like king mackerel, big-eye and ahi tuna, swordfish, and orange roughy, which may contain very high levels of mercury and other contaminants such as PCBs. Low-contaminant options include flounder, haddock, salmon, herring, perch, sardines, tilapia and trout. Limit fish with moderate mercury like bass, cod, halibut, mahi mahi and snapper to six servings a month or less.

Pink snapper with capers cooked in aluminum foil.
Pink snapper with capers cooked in aluminum foil. (Image: IslandLeigh/iStock/Getty Images)

Recommendations for Lowering Cholesterol

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes is a program recommended by various organizations including the National Institutes of Health to lower your cholesterol levels. The program involves making changes like eating the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight, lowering saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of your daily calories and keeping your total fat intake to about 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories. Other recommendations of the TLC plan include eating foods rich in fiber such as beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables, eating foods rich in omega-3 fats like flaxseed and lowering your sodium intake to reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Ask your doctor about the TLC program to find out if it's right for you.

A lentil salad with tomatoes and parsley.
A lentil salad with tomatoes and parsley. (Image: margouillatphotos/iStock/Getty Images)

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