You may be following your doctor's orders to lower your cholesterol levels, but raising one form of cholesterol called high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol, actually lowers your risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol gets its bad rep from low-density lipoproteins (LDL) particles. Excess amounts can enter the walls of blood vessels creating plaque that narrows and clogs blood vessels, causing coronary artery disease. But high levels of HDL cholesterol scavenge excess LDL, removing it from the blood and taking it to the liver where its broken down and then disposed of by the body. High levels of HDL are associated with a lower risk of heart disease as we age, as well as half the risk of developing dementia.
Generally speaking, the lower the HDL levels, the higher the risk of heart disease. Studies indicate that a drop of only five points in HDL cholesterol raises the risk of heart disease by 25 percent.
The high risk remains even when other indicators of heart disease are normal. "One study found that people with low HDL cholesterol had three times the risk of premature heart disease, even when their LDL cholesterol and triglycerides were normal," Dr. Chauncey Crandall, Chief of the Cardiac Transplant Program at the Palm Beach Cardiovascular Center told Newsmax Health.
"Why is this the case? Because HDL cholesterol acts as a scavenger — its job is to find bad LDL cholesterol and whisk it off to the liver, where it’s broken down and rendered harmless," said Dr. Crandall, author of Dr. Crandall's Heart Health Report.
Quitting smoking, losing weight, and exercising are three effective methods of raising HDL levels, but adding specific foods to your diet can do the trick as well. Below are seven foods that will help raise your good cholesterol levels:
• Alcohol. Moderate drinking — one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men — is associated with higher levels of HDL. Researchers in the Netherlands found that men who drank two pints of beer a day for three weeks increased their HDL levels by 12 percent. Of all types of alcohol, however, wine appears to offer the most health advantages. "You don’t necessarily need to drink alcohol to get this benefit;" said Dr. Crandall, "studies find a glass of organic grape juice works just as well."
• Orange juice. A British study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that drinking three cups of orange juice a day for three weeks increased good cholesterol levels by 21 percent.
• Berries. Finnish researchers gave middle-aged people with cardiovascular risk factors, including high LDL cholesterol levels and low HDL cholesterol levels, 5 ounces of berries a day, either whole, pureed, or in juice form, for eight weeks. Berries included strawberries, raspberries, lingonberries, and black currants. The study, which was published in the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, found that berries raised HDL levels by more than 5 percent. Researchers speculated that the beneficial effects came from high levels of antioxidants known as polyphenols. Another study found that drinking about 8 ounces of no-sugar-added cranberry juice cocktail raised HDL levels more than 8 percent.
• Eggs. For years, eggs were associated with heart disease, but recent research has shown that they may actually lower your risk. A study from the University of Connecticut found that eating three whole eggs a day raised levels of HDL more than 15 percent. Researchers believe that the lecithin found in egg yolks helps remove cholesterol from circulation and send it to the liver.
• Nuts. Studies have shown that almonds, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, macadamias, and flaxseeds all lower HDL. Relatively small amounts — about an ounce a day — can increase levels up to 12 percent.
• Cocoa. A study at Japan's Ochanomizu University gave healthy adult men a cocoa drink every day containing 26 grams (approximately a quarter cup) of cocoa — the amount for a rich cup of hot chocolate. After 12 weeks, their HDL levels had increased 24 percent.
• Kale. Researchers at South Korea's Yonsei University asked men with high cholesterol to drink about 5 ounces of kale juice a day. At the end of 12 weeks, their HDL cholesterol levels had increased by 27 percent.
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