When They Go Low, We Go High on HDL
February is American Heart Month and a reminder that we need to take special care to protect our vulnerable hearts. That’s why my 90-minute yoga class last week was dedicated to postures designed to open the heart, support the heart, and nourish the heart. I felt so stress-free after class that I was able to get through an entire night of TV news without a single taco chip.
Another smart way to keep your heart strong is to increase your good cholesterol—high-density lipoprotein—and that’s something you can do on your own, without anti-cholesterol statin drugs, which are enormously popular but increasingly suspect.
Cholesterol, it turns out, isn’t to be feared. It’s absolutely essential for a healthy, highly functioning body. High levels of HDL have an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant impact on your body, lowering your risk of heart disease—the nation and the world’s No. 1 killer for both men and women.
So, now you know the why. Here’s the how, based on the advice of nutrition expert Franziska Spritzler, published on Authority Nutrition.
1. CONSUME OLIVE OIL. Really? Yep. Doctors were misled and were flat-out wrong when they told patients to stop eating healthy fats. Oops. It turns out the opposite is true: The body, especially the heart, thrives on proper amounts of good fats, and the best one for heart health turns out to be olive oil. “A large analysis of 42 studies with more than 800,000 participants found that olive oil was the only source of monounsaturated fat that seemed to reduce heart disease risk,” Spritzler reports.
Olive oil boosts your HDL, the good kind of cholesterol, because it contains antioxidants called polyphenols. (This will not be on the final exam.) High quality, certified extra-virgin olive oil tends to have more polyphenols than more-processed olive oils, so that’s the kind to buy, even if it’s not the cheapest one on the shelf.
2. FOLLOW A LOW-CARB (OR KETOGENIC) DIET. Low-carb diets—less than 50 grams of carbs per day—have proven to be excellent for weight loss, reducing blood sugar levels and increasing HDL cholesterol, Spritzler says, whereas high-carb diets are linked to lower levels of HDL. I know this high-carb-versus-low-carb stuff has been terribly confusing in the past, but the question has been settled: Lower-carb is the way to go, especially if you want to increase HDL cholesterol. And you do.
3. EXERCISE REGULARLY. You’ve been waiting for this, right? Studies show that many different kinds of exercise work to raise your HDL cholesterol, including strength training, high-intensity exercise and aerobic exercise, but the biggest increases in HDL are typically seen with high-intensity exercise. Low-intensity is good, too, but not as good.
4. ADD COCONUT OIL TO YOUR DIET. Everything changes. Coconut oil used to be considered a risky choice because of its high saturated-fat content, but that thinking has gone the way of the Twinkie. New studies have shown coconut oil is good for increasing your metabolic rate, protecting brain health and boosting your HDL. Spritzler suggests 2 tablespoons a day, incorporating it into your cooking, not swallowing it by the spoonful.
5. STOP SMOKING. Quitting smoking can increase HDL levels, improve HDL function and boost the health of your heart. Giving up cigarettes isn’t easy, but neither is dying from heart disease.
6. LOSE WEIGHT. When overweight and obese people lose weight, Spritzler reports, their HDL cholesterol levels usually increase.
7. CHOOSE PURPLE PRODUCE. This is her most colorful recommendation by far. Purple fruits and vegetables—eggplant, red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries—are rich in antioxidants known as anthocyanins and may help increase HDL levels.
8. EAT FATTY FISH OFTEN. The omega-3 fats in fatty fish are a boon to heart health, and may help raise low levels of HDL cholesterol. Spritzler suggests eating fatty fish such as herring, salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies several times a week.
9. AVOID ARTIFICIAL TRANS FATS. These bad actors are found in margarines and processed foods, and they’ve been shown to lower, not raise, HDL levels. Just say no.
So that’s it. Nine healthy ways to make your heart stronger, so you can last longer.
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