How to Raise Your Good Cholesterol Naturally

Understanding the role that cholesterol levels play in your heart health and taking steps to keep these levels under control can significantly reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that circulates in your bloodstream and in all the cells in your body. It produces essential cell membranes and certain hormones. Your body makes some cholesterol on its own and the rest comes from animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, butter, cheese, and whole milk.

Knowing Your "Bad" and "Good" Cholesterol Levels

Because cholesterol can't dissolve in the blood, it is carried to and from cells by lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as "bad" cholesterol, because too much LDL cholesterol can build up in the inner walls of the arteries, forming plaque that can block blood supply to the heart and brain, sometimes resulting in heart attack or stroke. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as good cholesterol because high levels of HDL seem to protect the heart from disease by removing excess cholesterol before it can clog the arteries with plaque.

According to the American Heart Association (AMA), to stay heart healthy, aim to have HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or higher and your LDL levels below 100 mg/dL.

Maintaining Heart Health Through Diet and Exercise

To increase your HDL cholesterol level and reduce your LDL levels, the AMA recommends limiting total fat intake to less than 25 to 35 percent of your total calories each day and reducing your intake of cholesterol from food to less than 300 mg per day. Here's how:

  • Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and fiber.
  • Use unhydrogenated vegetable oils like canola, safflower, sunflower, or olive oil.
  • Look for processed foods made with unhydrogenated oil instead of partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils or saturated fats.
  • Avoid food high in trans fats such as French fries, doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies. and cakes.
  • Use soft margarine brands over the harder stick forms as a substitute for butter and check the Nutrition Facts label on the package to make sure it reads 0g trans fat.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, the AMA recommends that you engage in some form of vigorous physical activity, such as walking, jogging, biking or swimming, for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.