The whole cholesterol debate can be somewhat confusing and a little bit wordy to try and understand. The first and most important thing to try and grasp is the difference between what is “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol”. The American Heart Association defines them as the following…

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque – a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, heart attack or stroke can result. Another condition called peripheral artery disease can develop when plaque buildup narrows an artery supplying blood to the legs.

HDL (Good) Cholesterol

HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. Experts believe HDL acts as a scavenger, carrying LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is broken down and passed from the body. One-fourth to one-third of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL. A healthy level of HDL cholesterol may also protect against heart attack and stroke, while low levels of HDL cholesterol  have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.

So obviously the goal is to raise those HDL levels and there are several steps you can take to make sure that they are at a healthy level.

  1. Exercise. Get acquanted with a workout routine. Studies have shown that the greatest benefits of physical activity on good cholesterol came from programs that continued for a long period of time. Overall, to raise good cholesterol levels, aim for a mix of activities, including aerobic and resistances training. Variety is likely to keep you interested.
  2. Quit smoking. Smoking cigarettes makes it easier for cholesterol to collect in your blood vessels and makes it harder for HDL to do the job of sweeping it out. Research shows quitting has a direct effect on raising good cholestrol.
  3. Cut your sugar intake. People with the highest levels of good cholesterol had diets in which sugar accounted for just 5 percent or less of their calories.
  4. Pay attention to purble foods. A full rainbow of fruits and vegetables is your best strategy for gettingg a wide variety of nutrients, but those rich in the colors red and purple may both raise good cholesterol and lower LDL levels. Foods like plums, grapes, purple cabbage, eggplant and raspberries are fantastic, plus eating more fruits and veggies (in addition to whole grains) will increase your fiber, which has been shown to help control overall cholesterol levels.
  5. Eat fatty fish. Salmon, once or twice a week is a good goal. Include healthy portions of fatty fish, olive oil and other heart-healthy non-animal-based sources of fat to raise good cholesterol.
  6. Dark chocolate (you’re welcome). Research from Italy has shown that eating 50 grams of dark chocolate daily can improve the antioxidant action of HDL.
  7. Sip red wine (you’re welcome, again). Low to moderate consumption of alcohol has heart healthy benefits, and red wine is the beverage most often recommended for people who want to improve their HDL. Men may have up to two glasses of red wine a day and women can have one.

– Jon Yunt

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