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High Density Lipoprotein (HDL): Tips for Increasing HDL


High Density Lipoprotein (HDL):
Tips for Increasing Your HDL Levels

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is very important to your overall cardiovascular health, and the more that you have, the better. HDL carries excess cholesterol from your blood to the liver to make sure that it is disposed of. HDL also may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticlotting effects in your body, which all reduce the risk of heart disease.

If your doctor tells you that your HDL level is too low, take heed and follow these tips to increase your HDL level. Ideally, both men and women will have a level of 60 milligrams (mg)/deciliter (dL). However, women are at risk for heart disease when their level falls below 50 mg/dL. Men are not at an equivalent risk until their level falls below 40 mg/dL. 

Do not smoke
Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol levels and may negate HDL’s beneficial effects. Quitting smoking can increase your HDL cholesterol by as much as 10%.

Maintain a healthy weight
For every 2 pounds that you lose if you are overweight, your HDL level may increase by 0.35 mg/dL.

Move it or lose it
After 2 months of beginning an aerobic exercise routine, your HDL level may increase as much as 5%. Aim for at least 120-150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each week.

Choose fat wisely
Fat should make up 25%-35% of your total daily caloric intake, but saturated fat should make up no more than 7% of your total calories. Avoid any food that contains the ingredient “partially hydrogenated oil,” which indicates the presence of dangerous trans fats. You also should strictly limit foods that list fully hydrogenated oil, palm oil, or palm kernel oil on the ingredients list.

Fats with a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids are especially beneficial. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Tuna
  • Flaxseed
  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Soy nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Butternuts (similar to walnuts)

You may want to try fish oil supplements, if you do not get enough of these foods in your diet.

Drink a moderate amount of alcohol
If you are a man and already drink one or two servings of alcohol/day, or a woman who drinks one serving/day, you might want to continue this habit to help improve your cardiovascular health and possibly increase your levels of HDL cholesterol. However, you do not want to drink any more than this amount, because it will actually increase your risk of heart disease. If you do not already drink alcohol, research has shown that the impact of moderate alcohol intake on heart health is not strong enough to recommend picking up the habit.

Choose whole grains
Processed starches, such as cereals and bread, may decrease HDL levels.

Make sure that your diet includes niacin
Some people have heard that they should take high doses of niacin, but you should never initiate this without first talking to your physician. Niacin can have serious side effects if too much is taken. Intake of 3000 mg or more/day can lead to toxicity. Niacin is found in:

  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Yeast

Milk and eggs contain small amounts of niacin, but are excellent sources of the amino acid tryptophan, from which you can synthesize niacin.


References and recommended readings
Jampolis M. What should we eat to improve HDL, LDL, triglycerides? Available at: Accessed October 25, 2009.

March D. Experts highlight strategies to raise ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Available at: Accessed October 25, 2009.

Mayo Clinic. HDL cholesterol: how to boost your ‘good’ cholesterol. Available at: Accessed October 25, 2009. Five vital tips to improve your HDL cholesterol. Available at: Accessed October 25, 2009.


Review Date 12/09


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