Best Ways to Bump Up Your ‘Good’ Cholesterol

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Q. How do I raise my good cholesterol levels?

A. Glad you asked. HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) helps to prevent our arteries from becoming blocked due to LDL (the bad cholesterol). It does this by “hauling” away the excess cholesterol lining the walls of our blood vessels, then bringing it back to the liver for reprocessing. This in turn helps to keep our arteries clear from a sticky build-up. And, if your levels of HDL are high enough (a level of 40 and above in males, 50 and above in females), it can also decrease your risk for a heart attack.

Raising HDL levels is important and I’ll tell you why: For every one-point increase in HDL, there is a 3 percent decrease in a person’s risk of suffering a fatal heart attack. There are two main ways to increase these levels: lifestyle modifications and medication therapy.

Lifestyle Modifications:

Exercise. Just 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week can jump-start your HDL in the right direction.

Break the tobacco habit. Quitting smoking can raise your HDL levels by about four points.

Lose weight. Losing 10 pounds can increase your HDL by one and a half points. Aim for a weight loss goal to achieve a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or below.

Choose the better fat. Minimize the saturated and trans fats in your diet. These substances increase the bad cholesterol while decreasing your good cholesterol. Instead, switch to products containing unsaturated fats (olive, canola, flaxseed, etc.). These may raise your HDL levels. However, this is not a free fatty-pass, because we still have to watch the calories!

Cut back on simple carbohydrates. Cakes, cookies and highly processed cereals and breads are high-glycemic foods that can lower your HDL and raise the levels of another fat in your bloodstream, triglycerides.

Drink alcohol in moderation, with a caveat! Alcohol should not be considered medicine—if you don’t drink, don’t start—but some studies have found mild alcohol consumption (one drink per day for women, two for men) can raise HDL by up to four points. Important caveat: Alcohol may be harmful to those with liver or addiction problems. In these cases, the risks certainly outweigh the benefits.

Feast on cold-water fish. Eating salmon, mackerel or other fish from icy waters several times a week can have a very positive effect on your HDL levels. They contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may help to explain their health benefits.

Add fiber. The soluble fiber found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains might boost your HDL.

Avoid anabolic steroids. These decrease your HDL levels, in addition to all their other potential health dangers.

Medication Therapy:

Niacin, which is also known as nicotinic acid or vitamin B3. This is by far our best therapy for raising HDL levels. Studies have shown increases of 20 percent to 35 percent. Unfortunately, every rose has its thorn, and niacin has a big one called side effects (flushing, racing heart, etc). We often prescribe low doses in the beginning to minimize these effects. (There is also a non-prescription form of niacin called hexanicotinate, which may be better tolerated but is nowhere near as effective).

Fibrates, including fenofibrate and gemfibrozil. This category of medication has the potential to boost your HDL by up to 20 percent. Side effects may include upset stomach and diarrhea.

Statins. These are better known for their remarkable ability to lower the harmful LDL cholesterol. However, certain drugs within this class (atorvastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin) can raise HDL by up to 15 percent.

Please know your HDL level and remember that simple changes can dramatically improve your health.

by Dr. Rob for MSN Health & Fitness

5 Foods That Feed Cholesterol

by Sally Wadyka for MSN Health & Fitness

There’s no denying that a healthy diet is the first line of defense against rising cholesterol. “If you eat a predominantly plant-based diet—with lots of fruits and vegetables plus some fish—you are on the right track to keeping your cholesterol at a healthy level,” says Lisa Dorfman, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. That said, certain so-called super-foods can actually help lower bad cholesterol and/or increase the good cholesterol. Ideally, you want to shoot for total cholesterol under 200, with LDL (the bad one) under 110 and HDL (the good one) greater than 35.

Try to reduce—or better yet, eliminate—these bad-for-you foods from your repertoire:

Whole-milk dairy products

Saturated fat, which clogs arteries and increases LDL levels, is the No. 1 cholesterol-boosting culprit. And foods like ice cream and cheese are where you’re likely to find them. Swap out the Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby for a lower-fat frozen yogurt, and skip the brie in favor of something less rich, like a part-skim mozzarella.http://health.msn.com/dietfitness/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100159481

Processed meats

Bacon, sausage, liverwurst and the like are also wonderful sources of artery-clogging saturated fat. Look for lower-fat options, like bacon and sausage made from turkey and other lean protein sources.

Fast-food fries

Even worse than saturated fats are the dreaded trans fats. “You might as well take a gun and shoot yourself!” says Dorfman. The main source of trans fats are partially hydrogenated oils, and that’s exactly what most fast-food restaurants are still using to cook their fries. Trans fats hit cholesterol with a double whammy—in addition to raising your LDL, they simultaneously lower your HDL.

Tropical oils

Palm kernel and coconut oils are two of the fattiest of oils—100 percent of the bad-for-you saturated variety. Don’t use them when you cook at home, and try to avoid them when you eat out (most fast-food restaurants have eliminated them, but you can check their Web sites for detailed nutritional information). Use heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, like olive, canola and safflower oil, instead. According to the ADA, “Eating too many foods high in saturated fat may increase blood levels of [lipoprotein]LDL and total cholesterol. High blood levels of LDL and total cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease.” The World Health Organization came to similar conclusions about saturated fatty acids.

Baked goods

Many manufacturers of packaged cookies and cakes have eliminated trans fats from their recipes, but check the nutrition labels to be sure. But all baked goods—even those that are homemade—are high in saturated fats, thanks to the butter and shortening. Since no one wants to give up dessert completely, eat high-fat baked goods only occasionally, opting more often for low-fat sweets like sorbets.

5 Foods That Fight Cholesterol

There’s no denying that a healthy diet is the first line of defense against rising cholesterol. “If you eat a predominantly plant-based diet—with lots of fruits and vegetables plus some fish—you are on the right track to keeping your cholesterol at a healthy level,” says Lisa Dorfman, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. That said, certain so-called super-foods can actually help lower bad cholesterol and/or increase the good cholesterol. Ideally, you want to shoot for total cholesterol under 200, with LDL (the bad one) under 110 and HDL (the good one) greater than 35.

Try to incorporate more of these foods into your daily diet:

Almonds

Studies have found that eating just a quarter cup of almonds a day can lower your LDL by 4.4 percent, according to dietitian Leslie Bonci, who is also the director of sports nutrition at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Eating nuts, especially almonds, which are high in good-for-you monounsaturated fat, is better than simply eating a low-fat snack like pretzels,” says Bonci. Of course, they can also be high in calories, so stick with a small serving and choose almonds that are dry roasted without oil. http://health.msn.com/dietfitness/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100159481

Oatmeal

You’ve seen the commercials with people proclaiming dramatic drops in their cholesterol numbers thanks to a daily serving of this hot cereal. Those great results are due to the high levels of soluble fiber found in oatmeal. “The soluble fiber binds to the bile acids that are the precursor to the development of cholesterol and help flush it out,” explains Bonci. It doesn’t matter how you get your oats—those instant, just-add-water packets are just as good for you as traditional, slow-cooked versions.

Fish

Omega-3 fatty acids are widely considered to be the best of the “good” fats, and the best place to find them is in fish—especially fatty fishes like salmon, halibut and tuna. According to Dorfman of the ADA, you want to get 1.5 to 3 grams per day of omega-3. A 4-ounce piece of salmon will give you close to 3 grams, and you can also get these fatty acids from walnuts and flaxseed (two tablespoons of flaxseed provides 3.5 grams) and in fish oil supplements.

Red wine

Not everything that’s good for you has to feel virtuous. A glass of red wine, which contains flavanols, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that may help lower cholesterol and stave off heart disease. But in this case, more is definitely not better. “For women, the recommendation is one drink a day and for men it’s two,” says Bonci. More than that will, literally, dilute any potential benefits. These flavanols can also be found in red grape juice and dark cocoa.

Soy

Soybeans, soy nuts and edamame, plus any products made from soy (like tofu, soymilk, etc.) can help to reduce the production of new cholesterol. A little can go a long way—aim for about 25 grams of soy protein a day (the amount in a cup of edamame). And those who are at an increased risk of breast or prostate cancer may want to skip it since too much of soy’s phyto-estrogens can act similarly to the body’s own estrogen (which has been shown to feed some hormone-dependent tumors).

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