October 18, 2023
HDL cholesterol is often referred to as good cholesterol. So higher numbers are good! High HDL cholesterol numbers can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Tune into this week's episode of Ask a Nutritionist with Britni to learn all about way to increase your HDL cholesterol.
Welcome to the “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We are thrilled to have you join us today as we discuss the connection between what you eat and how you feel, and share practical real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition. Now let's get started.
BRITNI: Hello and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's midweek segment called “Ask a Nutritionist”. I am Britni Vincent, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. On today's show, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness, I will be answering a nutrition question we have received from one of our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners.
The question today is, “What are some ways to increase good cholesterol?” And the cholesterol that this listener is referring to is our HDL cholesterol, which stands for high density lipoprotein. It is sometimes often referred to as good cholesterol, and what it does in the body is it absorbs cholesterol in the blood and carries it back to the liver. Then the liver flushes it out from our body. So high levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Optimally, really we want our HDL levels to be above 60. So it, I would peak at at what your levels were the last time that you've had them checked. And I'm going to go through a list of, of ways that you can increase this HDL cholesterol. And often by incorporating some of these things that I'm going to talk about, it's going to improve other cholesterol markers as well.
So the first thing would be choose healthy fats and avoid refined oils. So healthy fats would be avocados, olives, olive oil, butter, nuts, seeds, ideally raw or dry roasted. Those would all be the healthy fats. The refined oils are the ones that you really want to avoid because those can reduce your HDL, whereas those healthy fats can actually improve your HDL cholesterol. The refined oils would be soybean oil, canola, cottonseed, corn oil, anything that is not naturally coming from an oily or fatty food.
So you think of soybean or a kernel of corn and you squeeze that, oil is not naturally coming out of that. So it has to be highly processed to turn it into an oil, which, which increases the inflammatory properties and, and then those oils really do not have any nutrients to offer us. Make sure that you are looking at the ingredient list of all products that you buy because these refined oils sneak in everywhere, so be on the lookout for those.
A specific type of healthy fat that I would encourage you to incorporate more of are omega-3’s. So you're going to find them in food sources: Fatty fish, so salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines. Realistically though, most people are not eating enough of that fatty fish to, to get enough omega-3’s, and omega-3’s are considered an essential fatty acid, meaning that our body doesn't make them. We need to get them from a food source or a supplement.
So I do for the majority of my clients recommend that they supplement with those omega-3’s, unless they are eating enough fatty fish. One study published in Lipids in Health and Disease found that the group that supplemented with omega’s for 12 weeks had an increase in HDL numbers and other markers improved as well. And I had, I had a, a client somewhat recently, so it, it's top of mind, and she had low HDL numbers and you know her, her other numbers were not ideal and she just tweaked her food. She didn't have to modify a ton. She looked closer at those refined oils to eliminate those. She reduced carbohydrates a little bit from processed foods, which we'll talk about, but she started those omega’s, and within, she happened to get her numbers rechecked very soon after, within I believe three months.
And her HDL increased by about 20 points, which was really impressive. And, and I do attribute some of that increase to supplementing with omega’s. And if you are going to decide to supplement with omega-3’s, they are not all created equal. You really want to look for supplements that are GMP certified or they that should be listed somewhere on the bottle. That means good manufacturing practice is what GMP stands for, and that ensures that the supplement has been third party tested.
And I've done the math on comparing some of the omega-3 supplements out there on the market and the number of actual therapeutic omega’s in a supplement that would be specifically looking at the EPA and DHA are so low in some of those bigger name brands found at the big box stores that you need to take nine of those a day compared to three of a good quality omega-3.
So you think you might be saving money, but really you probably aren't. And then you're just taking inferior product. So definitely if you're going to supplement with those omega-3s, make sure that you are getting good quality. Some of those poor quality omega-3’s, the oil can actually be rancid and sometimes that can cause those, those fish burps that I hear some of my clients talk about too.
So moving on to another way to increase our HDL: limit or eliminate those processed carbohydrates. So that would be chips, pasta, breads, crackers, cookies. This includes sugary foods as well because those foods are going to lower your HDL and instead really trying to replace those with lots of vegetables, some fruits, some starchy vegetables and, and instead of those refined carbohydrates. That is really going to help to improve your HDL.
Exercise: that is another big one to increase HDL. You know, getting regular exercise can not only increase your HDL, but it can also reduce your LDL cholesterol and sometimes that one is referred to as our, our bad cholesterol, though it's, it's not always bad. I'm going to give you some resources later to learn more about LDL and other cholesterol numbers.
But if you're not exercising much already, just incorporating 30 minutes of walking each day can really help. If you are already exercising, making sure to incorporate some weight training or some high intensity interval training, also referred to as HIIT, that can increase the HDL.
Avoiding cigarettes: I mean this is no surprise. Smoking and exposure to a lot of secondhand smoke can lower your HDL. If you are somebody that smokes, you know, there's lots of options out there to find a program that that works for you to help you quit.
Limiting or eliminating alcohol consumption, and that is another way to increase your HDL, because we do know that even moderate alcohol conception can lower your HDL.
The last point that I want to touch on is if you are on prescription medications, look at what you're on because some prescription medications can actually lower your HDL. So medications like anabolic steroids, beta blockers, which are commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, progestins, that would be like hormone replacement therapy. Those can be medications that can reduce your HDL. That would be reading the fine print with, with the literature that you get with your prescription. Or maybe something to ask your pharmacist or a doctor about if your medication could be contributing to your low HDL numbers.
You know, today I really just touched on HDL, but there is a more to the picture when we're referring to our cholesterol panel. So Brandy took a deeper dive into all cholesterol numbers on a different “Ask a Nutritionist” episode called “Managing Cholesterol”. And that is from March, 2023. And Melanie and I did a whole show titled, “What Do Your Cholesterol Numbers Mean”? And that one is from April, 2023. So if you are looking to learn more about the other numbers that you see on your cholesterol panel, please listen to those podcasts as well.
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