Why do we need HDL?
Our liver manufacturers enough cholesterol for our bodily needs. Cells use cholesterol for important functions. For easy transport to the cells, the cholesterol is wrapped in a protein sheath. These particles are called LDL cholesterol. You can think of them as little dump trucks traveling in the bloodstream to the cells that need them.
In a healthy and well balanced body, any LDL not used is gathered by HDL particles and transported back to the liver where it is recycled or eliminated from the body. If our levels of HDL are low this process is not possible and if this happens for too long, LDL hangs around in the bloodstream available to wreak damage on the artery walls.The result is high cholesterol levels and all its associated health problems. So high HDL cholesterol levels are needed to keep the arteries free of unneeded LDL.
LDL cholesterol is termed ‘bad cholesterol’ while HDL has a heart-protective function and is recognized as ‘good cholesterol’. HDL levels of greater than 40 mg/dL and LDL levels of less than 100 mg/dL are desired. If our levels don’t fall in the desired ranges then in most cases a change of diet can improve them.
What is your daily calorie intake?
Many people just eat too much, so the first step is to eat smaller portions – cut back. Most people can maintain good health with a natural-foods diet of about 2,000 calories a day. Consider just how many calories a day do you eat? And how are the calories spread? Are they high in fat, refined sugars and carbohydrates? If you follow the suggestions below and continue eating too much of the wrong things then it all becomes self defeating. So it is important to understand what your daily diet consists of. Being overweight has been shown to be a contributor to low blood HDL levels.
Can diet help increase HDL?
The short answer is – yes it can. However, it is wrong to assume that we need to avoid all foods that contain cholesterol and eat a diet low in fat. While it can lower our cholesterol levels it can also be responsible for causing a lopsided ratio between HDL and LDL which can increase the risk of heart disease. We need to develop a higher total of HDL to LDL ratio. Ideally, total cholesterol levels which are computed from HDL, LDL, and triglycerides or blood fats should be less than 200 mg/dL.
Which foods can provide the correct ratio?
There are times when we need to increase our HDL levels and generally a diet that includes 70% carbohydrates and 30% saturated fats will result in high cholesterol levels. This is typical of an American diet at this time. We should instead substitute saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats and total fats should not make up more than 10% of our daily diet. Oils such as Omega-3 fatty acids, olive oils or canola oils constitute these good fats as well as nuts.
We need a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, high in fibers and low in carbohydrates.
Four foods capable of raising HDL cholesterol
1. Soy products.
Soy proteins provide many unique benefits which makes them super proteins and one of the main sources of nourishment for those who are vegetarians. Soy offers a complete amino acid profile because it contains all essential amino acids necessary for our nutrition and as we cannot create our own source of amino acids, we need to get them from our diet.
Soy protein increases the activity of enzymes responsible for breaking down cholesterol. Sources of soy can be found in supplements, cereals, soy nuts, milk and tofu.
2. Green leafy vegetables
While most fruits and vegetables provide plant sterols which help increase HDL levels there are those that stand out, amongst them being, avocado and dark green leafy vegetables.
Avocado is rich in oleic acid a monounsaturated fat; one per day can increase HDL levels by as much as 17%. Green leafy vegetables such as kale, Swiss chard, collard greens and spinach work much in the same way as an avocado for raising HDL levels.
Berries, especially blue berries contain an antioxidant called pterostilbene which is also found in grapes and red wine and which is responsible for the increase of HDL. In fact many fruits that are purplish or bluish in colour produce similar results.
4. Monounsaturated fats
In the form of nuts, oily fish, olive oil, flax seed oil and the like are a good source for increasing HDL levels. As an alternative to animal proteins these fats provide great benefits for our HDL levels.
Aerobic exercise has been shown to raise HDL levels. So an HDL cholesterol diet rich in the above natural foods along with a good exercise plan will raise HDL levels and it will have positive effects on LDL levels and total cholesterol.