The trick to raising good cholesterol

Sarah Mohrman, RDN, CD, MA, dietitian/Coordinator Wellness and Marketing, PPG - Cardiology, talks about artery-cleaning foods and how we can raise our good cholesterol, HDL, through simple, smart choices. 

HDL, or high-density lipoproteins, can be considered a risk factor for heart disease if levels are too low (< 40 mg/dL). Studies have shown that a 1% decrease in HDL leads to a 2 – 3% increase in heart disease risk. Conversely, high levels of HDL can lower the risk for heart disease. If HDL is high, it can perform similar to a dump truck, traveling through the arterial walls removing excess cholesterol. Potentially reversible causes of low HDL cholesterol levels include: high triglyceride levels, cigarette smoking, type 2 diabetes, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity and very high carbohydrate intake (> 60% of calories).  

Top strategies to increase HDL if it is low include the following: 

  • Calorie control and weight loss in those who are overweight.
  • Increased physical activity — 30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise seven days a week or 60 minutes three to four days a week.
  • Smoking cessation — Studies suggest that cardiovascular benefits occur within months of quitting.

For those who do not like fish, other options include foods such as: canola, soybean or flaxseed oil; walnuts; ground flaxseed; and fish oil supplementation. Please see the recommendations listed below.

  • Fish Oil Supplementation

>   500mg/day EPA + DHA* without heart disease

>   At least 800 – 1000 mg/day EPA + DHA* with heart disease/heart failure

>   2000 – 4000 mg/day EPA + DHA* to lower triglycerides under physician’s care 

>   Use with caution if taking Coumadin, and stop before any surgical procedure

*Look at the food label on the bottle for mg of EPA + DHA — not the amount listed on the front of the bottle.

  • Flaxseed/Flaxseed Oil

>   Ground flaxseed*: ~ 2 TBSP daily

>   Flaxseed oil capsules: Six 1 g capsules with 50% ALA (= 257 mg EPA)

>   Flaxseed oil: 1–2 TBSP per day (= 642 mg EPA)

*The actual flaxseed should be ground or milled in order to reap the benefits. Fiber is also a benefit to consuming ground rather than capsule or oil form. Contraindicated in pregnant women and nursing mothers; should be avoided in children pending long-term studies; if on Coumadin, aspirin, NSAIDS, garlic or ginkgo and experience nosebleeds and increased bruising, cease use; use caution if used in combination with fish oil due to their decreased blood clotting tendencies.

  • Nuts

>   1 oz. of nuts five times/week (preferably unsalted, roasted or raw nuts)
>   Example of 1 oz. of nuts: 23 almonds, 20 mixed nuts, 3 – 4 TBSP walnuts


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