Sometimes, high cholesterol can be a good thing.
When people pay attention to their cholesterol levels, they’re usually focused on trying to lower them. But lower isn’t always better. Your total cholesterol level includes several different types of cholesterol.
What is HDL Cholesterol?
One type called high-density lipoproteins, or HDL, actually protects you against heart disease by carrying excess cholesterol back to your liver. That’s why you’ll often see it referred to as “good” cholesterol. In general, higher levels of HDL cholesterol are a good thing. And what you eat can help improve your HDL levels.
(For more on the different types of cholesterol and what you test results may say about your health, see the House Call Doctor’s article “Should You Be Worried About Your Cholesterol Levels?”)
How to Raise Your Good Cholesterol
One way is to eat a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. The only problem is that you’ll also end up increasing your LDL cholesterol and your triglycerides. Any benefit you might get from higher HDL is cancelled out by increasing these other risk factors.
For this and lots of other reason, I suggest you limit your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates like white bread. You don’t have to go low carb. Just eat most of your carbohydrates in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
How Fats Affect your Cholesterol Levels
The fat in your diet—both the type and the amount—has a big impact on your cholesterol levels but it’s tricky. Diets high in polyunsaturated fat, which is found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, tend to lower both types of cholesterol, both HDL and LDL. Diets high in saturated fat, on the other hand, which is found in meat, dairy products, coconut and palm oils tend to raise both types of cholesterol—also a mixed bag.
The best advice I can give you is to is to avoid very low-fat diets because they don’t really move anything in the right direction. As far as your cholesterol profile goes, a diet that’s a little bit higher in fat is probably a better choice than one that’s high in carbohydrates. And there appears to be some advantages to including both saturated and unsaturated fats in your diet. In other words, there’s room for both peanut butter and cheese!
Whatever you do, however, continue to be vigilant about avoiding foods made with partially hydrogenated oils. These are the dreaded trans fats, of course, and among their many sins is a tendency to lower those good HDL cholesterol levels and raise the bad LDL levels.
Other Foods that Raise HDL Cholesterol
Olive oil and fish are often cited as foods that help raise HDL levels. However the actual evidence on in this is somewhat weak. But because olive oil and fish oil both have other well-documented benefits, particularly for heart health, I think it’s a great idea to include them in your diet anyway.