3 Best Foods To Boost Your HDL Cholesterol to Improve Heart Health

Key Takeaways:

1. Understanding Cholesterol
: HDL ("good") and LDL ("bad") cholesterol play crucial roles in heart health. HDL cholesterol acts as a guardian by removing LDL cholesterol from arteries, while excessive LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup and heart disease.

2. Recommended Cholesterol Levels
: Knowing your cholesterol numbers is essential for heart health. Desirable ranges include total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL, LDL cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL, and HDL cholesterol higher than 60 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women.

3. Risks Associated with High Cholesterol
: Chronic high cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, peripheral artery disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, gallstones, and liver disease.

4. Foods to Increase HDL Cholesterol
: Incorporating healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), high-fiber foods, and antioxidant-rich foods (like berries and dark chocolate) into your diet can boost HDL cholesterol levels and promote heart health.

5. Creating a Lifestyle for Heart Health
: Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, using healthy cooking oils and methods, engaging in regular exercise, managing stress effectively, and prioritizing regular health check-ups are essential lifestyle factors for maintaining heart health and happiness.


Welcome to our in-depth exploration of foods to increase HDL cholesterol. In this exploration, we'll dissect the essential roles of 'good' high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and 'bad' low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. We will equip you with practical insights and actionable steps for a heart-healthy lifestyle.

We'll start by understanding the functions of HDL cholesterol and its implications. We outline recommended cholesterol levels, ensuring you know exactly where your heart health stands. You'll also gain practical tools to enhance your heart's well-being.

With this knowledge, you can make impactful choices. Let's pave the way for a heart-healthy future together.

Understanding Cholesterol

HDL Cholesterol and LDL cholesterol
Image by brgfx on Freepik | Understanding Cholesterol

Good (HDL) Cholesterol

Maintaining a healthy HDL cholesterol level is like having a guardian against heart attacks and strokes. HDL cholesterol operates by carrying the 'bad' LDL cholesterol away from your arteries and back to the liver, where it undergoes breakdown and is removed from the body. 

However, HDL doesn't remove all LDL cholesterol—just a part of it. So, it's like having a team that takes out some of the trash but not all of it. Maintaining a balance between these two types of cholesterol is essential to keep your heart healthy.

Too much LDL cholesterol can be harmful, even with the help of HDL. Maintaining a low LDL cholesterol is just as crucial as increasing HDL cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Bad (LDL) Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol, a type of fat, from your liver to the cells that need it. Cholesterol is crucial for building cell membranes and hormones. However, too much LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream can accumulate on artery walls, leading to health issues.

So, while LDL cholesterol is necessary, it's essential to maintain a balanced level to support bodily functions without risking heart problems. Maintaining the right HDL and LDL cholesterol balance is pivotal in keeping your heart healthy.


Triglycerides are fat in your bloodstream, serving as an energy source for your body. They are an integral part of your body's energy management system, providing the fuel to carry out daily activities.

However, it's crucial to understand that high triglyceride levels, especially with low HDL or high LDL cholesterol, can significantly increase your health issues, including heart attacks. Achieving a balanced profile of these lipids is vital for cardiovascular health.

Recommended Cholesterol Levels

Knowing your cholesterol numbers is the first step towards safeguarding your heart. Regular cholesterol tests are recommended for adults aged 20 and above, with screenings typically scheduled every four to six years. Suppose you are at a higher risk due to certain factors or already have heart disease. In that case, your healthcare provider may recommend more frequent tests.

Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL), with desirable ranges as follows:

Total Cholesterol

  • Less than 200 mg/dL: Desirable
  • 200 to 239 mg/dL: Borderline high
  • 240 mg/dL or more: High

LDL Cholesterol

  • Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal
  • 100 to 129 mg/dL: Near optimal/above optimal
  • 130 to 159 mg/dL: Borderline high
  • 160 to 189 mg/dL: High
  • 190 mg/dL or more: Very high

HDL Cholesterol

  • Men, less than 40 mg/dL: Low
  • Women, less than 50 mg/dL: Low
  • 60 mg/dL or more: Optimal


  • Less than 150 mg/dL: Normal
  • 150 to 199 mg/dL: Borderline high
  • 200 to 499 mg/dL: High
  • 500 mg/dL or more: Very high

Maintaining these recommended levels is a significant step towards heart health.

Risks Associated with High Cholesterol

Increased heart disease risk due to high cholesterol
Image by pch.vector on Freepik | Risks Associated with High Cholesterol
  • Atherosclerosis: Chronic high cholesterol causes fatty deposits in arteries, restricting blood flow and increasing heart disease and stroke risks.
  • Heart Attack: Arterial blockages due to high cholesterol can lead to heart attacks, damaging heart tissues.
  • Stroke: High cholesterol can cause strokes by interrupting blood supply to the brain, resulting in brain cell damage.
  • Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD): Reduced blood flow in limbs from atherosclerosis leads to pain, numbness, and potential amputation.
  • High Blood Pressure: Cholesterol-related artery narrowing raises blood pressure, a significant heart disease, and stroke risk.
  • Heart Disease: High cholesterol contributes to coronary artery disease, causing chest pain, heart attacks, and heart failure.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: High cholesterol links to insulin resistance, increasing diabetes risk and heart disease complications.
  • Pancreatitis: Extremely high triglycerides from high cholesterol can inflame the pancreas, causing pancreatitis.
  • Gallstones: High cholesterol fosters gallstone formation, leading to pain and complications in the gallbladder.
  • Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD): High cholesterol accumulates liver fat, progressing to severe liver conditions if untreated.

Foods to Increase HDL Cholesterol

When boosting HDL cholesterol, making informed dietary choices can be a powerful ally in your heart health journey. In this section, we'll explore three key food categories:

1. Incorporating Healthy Fats

Healthy fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, are renowned for their ability to increase HDL cholesterol. Omega-3s are pivotal in elevating HDL cholesterol levels, ultimately reducing your risk of heart disease.

One of the ways omega-3s achieve this is by enhancing the activity of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), an enzyme responsible for breaking down triglyceride-rich lipoproteins. Increased LPL activity reduces VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) and IDL (intermediate-density lipoprotein) and the simultaneous increase in HDL.

You can find these heart-healthy omega-3s in foods like flaxseeds, walnuts, and fatty fish. So, consider incorporating these sources into your diet to boost HDL cholesterol.

2. Consumption of High-Fiber Foods

Dietary fiber is another booster for HDL cholesterol. According to studies, when you increase dietary fiber consumption from less than 18 grams to more than 30 grams per day, HDL cholesterol levels can increase by 10.1%.

Fiber-rich foods, including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, not only aid in increasing HDL cholesterol but also support a healthy cardiovascular system. So, consider incorporating more of these wholesome foods into your daily meals to boost your heart.

3. Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Antioxidant-rich foods have a profound impact on heart health. Berries like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are vibrant sources of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins shield LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage and actively promote cholesterol efflux from cells, thus increasing HDL cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.

Dark chocolate, derived from cocoa beans, contains flavonoids, specifically flavanols. Dark chocolate consumption has been linked to higher HDL cholesterol levels, acting as a delightful yet effective component in your heart-healthy diet. 

Creating a Lifestyle to Increase Good Cholesterol

Lifestyle to Increase Good Cholesterol:
Image by rawpixel.com on Freepik | Lifestyle to Increase Good Cholesterol

1. Incorporate Mediterranean Food Elements into your Diet

The Mediterranean diet, renowned for its heart-protective qualities, holds a special place in cholesterol management. This diet emphasizes the consumption of heart-healthy fats like olive oil and a rich array of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and nuts.

The Mediterranean diet's impact on HDL cholesterol functionality, composition, and size is noteworthy. Research indicates that the Mediterranean diet enhances HDL functionality by boosting enzymatic activity and cholesterol removal capacity. Furthermore, it augments HDL's antioxidant properties, effectively reducing HDL oxidation.

Hence, it will be an excellent idea for you to incorporate elements of the Mediterranean diet into your daily diet.

2. Healthy Cooking Oils for Cholesterol-Friendly Recipes

Choosing suitable cooking oils is essential for maintaining a cholesterol-friendly diet. Opt for heart-healthy options such as olive oil, canola oil, and avocado oil. These oils are rich in monounsaturated fats, which can help raise HDL cholesterol levels while reducing LDL cholesterol.

3. Healthy Cooking Methods

The cooking method you choose can impact the heart healthiness of your meals. Favor methods like grilling, steaming, baking, and sautéing in heart-healthy oils to minimize the use of saturated and trans fats. These cooking techniques can help preserve the nutritional integrity of your ingredients.

4. Regular Exercise

Numerous studies affirm the positive influence of aerobic exercise on HDL cholesterol levels. Regular physical activity can increase your HDL cholesterol and decrease LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Exercise affects the quantitative aspects of serum lipids and enhances HDL particle maturation, composition, and functionality. Regular aerobic exercise is a powerful tool for optimizing your cholesterol profile and supporting overall heart health.

5. Managing Stress

Stress management is a crucial aspect of cholesterol control. Chronic stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices, including poor dietary habits and reduced physical activity, adversely affecting your cholesterol levels. Learning to manage stress through techniques like mindfulness, meditation, or yoga can contribute to you having a healthier cholesterol profile and improved heart health.


In understanding the delicate balance of cholesterol, you've empowered yourself with the knowledge to nurture a heart-healthy life. Remember, it's not just about increasing the "good" HDL cholesterol but also managing the "bad" LDL cholesterol. Regular health checkups, mindful dietary choices, and an active lifestyle are your allies in this journey. You're taking charge of your heart's well-being by embracing these steps. Here's to your informed decisions and a vibrant, heart-healthy future!

To make the right dietary choices, download the Aware Health Rewards app. The Aware app gives you free personalized diet plans that help you make the right food choices.

About the author:

Lucky Mehtani
, B. Pharm, merges his healthcare expertise with a passion for writing to enhance India's heart health. Through insightful blogs, he provides well-researched information on managing Diabetes, Hypertension, and High Cholesterol, aiming to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
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