Various foods forming a heart with a text bubble saying ways to increase HDL-C to improve heart health

HDL is crucial for heart health. Learn more about HDL-C by clicking here, and LDL-C by clicking here.

This article discusses dietary and lifestyle interventions proven to raise HDL-C and therefore reduce cardiovascular risk.

Diet Interventions that Increase HDL-C

  1. Lower Carb/Higher Fat Diets
  • Lowers triglycerides, raises HDL-C [1]
  • LDL-C may not change in concentration, but the molecule shifts to the larger, buoyant one [1]
  • Low carbohydrate = less than 50 grams a day (or less than 10% of total energy)
  • High fat diets have very few reported adverse effects and little to no effect on blood lipid levels
  • Added benefit – more weight loss than low-fat diets over 6 months [1]
  • Low carb/high fat diet on obesity (still low-calorie diet): improve HDL, lowers inflammatory markers (CRP) [2]
  • Low carb/high fat diet on Metabolic Syndrome: extreme improvement in LDL, body weight, BMI, waist circumference, fasting blood sugar, triglycerides, blood pressure, and HDL [3]
  • Low carb/high fat diet on Type 2 Diabetes: substantial improvements to weight loss, HbA1c, fasting glucose, blood glucose stability, reduced diabetes medications needed, better lipid profiles (increased HDL, reduced triglycerides) [4]
  1. Influences of Dietary Fat on Blood Lipids
  • Fatty fish reduces triglycerides; helps HDL, LDL, blood pressure [5] [6]; reduces triglycerides in both hyper- and normo-triglyceride populations [1]
  • Eating fish at least 4 times a week increases HDL in those with heart disease [7]
  • Avoid artificial hydrogenated Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (vegetable oils such as corn, soybean oil, margarine, canola)
    • Studies show they reduce HDL [8] and worsen LDL profiles [9]
  • Avoid trans-fats
    • Raise TC and LDL-C; lower HDL-C [1], [9]
    • Sources of TFAs are partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils: margarines, shortenings, commercially fried foods, baked goods
  1. Soluble Fiber helps HDL
  • Soluble fiber is the non-digestible carbohydrate component of plants, and it has an inverse association with cardiovascular disease risk [1], meaning a higher soluble fiber diet decreases cardiovascular disease risk
  • Examples are: Beans, oats, barley, fruits, vegetables
  • Additional 5-10 grams per day to one’s diet may reduce LDL-C by about 5%
  1. Plant sterols (stanols/sterols) [1]
  • Phytosterols come from nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils [1]
  • Phytosterols lower LDL-C independent of dietary cholesterol intake
  • Supplements exist which provide a dose required to have this therapeutic effect
  • Helpful for use with statin drugs, especially when statins are about to increase in dose. Try adding this instead [1]
Dietary interventions for HDL-C include low carbohydrates, high fat, plant sterols, soluble fibre, and choosing the right fats

Specific Foods that Increase HDL-C

  1. Eggs
    • In both low risk and high-risk heart disease populations, eggs have been shown to increase HDL and lower LDL’s contribution to atherosclerosis [10]
  2. Almonds
    • 10 grams before breakfast, in patients with coronary artery disease, increased HDL by about 15%[11]
  3. Olive Oil
    • 15 grams was able to protect LDL from oxidation, raise HDL [12], lower total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio, lower triglyceride levels, and lower oxidative markers [13]
    • Improves antioxidant status: glutathione, superoxide dismutase, catalase [14]
    • Polyphenol content is important; so find brands that have high amounts of polyphenols
  4. Coconut oil
    • Types of fat matter – high saturated versus low saturated fat improved LDL:HDL ratio [15]
    • In obesity – improved HDL, LDL, triglycerides (hypocaloric diet), also reduction in adiposity [16]
  5. Anthocyanin (berries)
  • Helped antioxidant power and lipid panel including HDL [17], [18]
  1. Fish
  • Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA – sources are fish oil, fortified foods, or supplements
  1. Magnesium
    • Magnesium not only increases HDL-C, but it lowers LDL-C and triglyceride levels [19]
  2. Pistachios
    • Improves HDL and Total Cholesterol/HDL ratio and inhibits LDL-C oxidation
    • Helpful in both prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease [20]
Collage of pictures listing foods for better HDL-C and improved heart health, including eggs, almonds, olive oil, coconut oil, berries, fish, magnesium, and pistachios

Lifestyle Factors that Increase HDL-C

  1. Exercise
    • High intensity exercise is best for blood pressure, lipoproteins and triglycerides compared to endurance alone or low intensity exercise [21]
    • Aerobic exercise is effective too – triglyceride reduction by 12%, HDL-C increase of 4.1% in overweight, obese individuals
  1. Weight loss
    • 5-10% weight loss results in 15% reduction of LDL, 20% reduction of triglycerides and 8-10% increase in HDL-C [1]
    • For some, during the weight loss phase, HDL may go down, but once weight loss is maintained it will normalize, higher than it was [1]
    • Especially in obese/overweight people, alternate day fasting and endurance exercise. Body mass index reduced, fat mass decreased, waist circumference decreased, lean mass retained, LDL particle decreased, and HDL increased [22]
    • 3% weight loss is enough in obese and overweight people to see improvements to all cholesterol, liver function, and sugar levels [23]
  1. Limit Alcohol and Drink Wisely
    • Alcohol has both positive and negative associations with heart disease risk
    • Over consumption leads to alcoholism, hypertension, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide, and accidents
    • Alcohol lowers fibrinogen (a clotting factor) – which would therefore reduce certain risks [1]
      • The recommendation is to continue drinking responsibly but not to start drinking just to gain this benefit
Collage of pictures explaining how lifestyle modifications can improve HDL-C, including exercise, weight loss, and limiting alcohol

Summary

HDL-C is an important marker to monitor for cardiovascular health. It is closely related to risk of heart disease and the good news is various diet and lifestyle modifications can have significant impacts.

References

Interested in learning more?

Read on in our series of articles on Heart Health!

About the Author - Dr. Johann de Chickera

Dr. Johann de Chickera is a naturopath at Absolute Health and Wellness in Paris Ontario

Dr. Johann is a licensed naturopathic doctor and co-owner of Absolute Health and Wellness. He completed his 4-year degree at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). His clinical focus lies in chronic disease, such as those related to the Gastrointestinal, Endocrine, and Immune Systems.

His approach to medicine relies on working with the patient to come up with a feasible, multi-factorial approach that addresses all complaints at once. He employs a strong background in diagnostic medicine and human physiology and pathology to diagnose and treat. His treatment involve a combination of nutritional counselling, botanical medicine, eastern medicine (acupuncture), nutraceutical supplementation and hands on physical medicine.

To book in please call us at (519) 442-2206 or click here.

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