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Easy ways to raise your good (HDL) cholesterol

Cholesterol

MANY mid-age adults are not aware they could have high cholesterol. What most adults are watching is their blood pressure and blood sugar level, neglecting another factor of heart health which is cholesterol.

HDL, high-density lipoprotein, is the good cholesterol. This is the particle that’s moving cholesterol out of your body — so it’s the happy cholesterol and you want to keep it high.

But because many of us love to eat especially fried foods, the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is racing up again HDL.

When we heard that having “high cholesterol is bad” may not be exactly what was it meant to be. Yes, high LDL or bad cholesterol is bad but high HDL or good cholesterol is good health.

An HDL above 40 mg/dL is acceptable for men and a value above 50 mg/dL is acceptable for women. But the higher the better. Low baseline HDL numbers, especially if values fall below 35 for men or 45 for women, are a potent risk factor for developing early heart disease.

It’s not only from the foods we eat we can raise our HDL. Here are other ways how:

* Managing stress can help raise HDL. Who’s not stressed during this pandemic? When we are stressed, our bodies release cortisol which blunts insulin sensitivity. And just like for weight gain, lower insulin sensitivity leads to higher LDL and lower HDL levels.

* Exercise raises HDL levels. One of the best ways to try and raise your HDL, regardless of where you’re starting from, is to participate in regular physical activity. Both aerobic (cardio) and strengthening (weight training) forms of exercise improve HDL levels, though aerobic exercise tends to be more potent in this regard.

To make up for eight hours of sitting, which is very much the new norm now for those working at home, you need to get at least one hour of aerobic activity every day — which is far more than the 150 minutes per week recommended by health experts. If one hour of aerobic physical activity per day seems daunting right now, don’t give up. Even small increases in exercise can yield proportional HDL improvements.

* A healthy diet helps raise HDL cholesterol. Avoiding simple, processed carbohydrates (like white bread, white rice, cakes, cookies and most boxed cereals) and avoiding trans fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils) can also have a big impact on HDL levels.

Weight loss, if required, tends to improve HDL readings. Excess weight causes insulin resistance, meaning you need more insulin to store circulating blood sugar. Insulin is a storage hormone and shifts our body into storage mode — that means increased LDL (the storage form of cholesterol) and lowered HDL (the elimination form).

* Alcohol consumption raises HDL. What? Is this really true? This could be true for moderate drinkers. For those who do drink, moderate consumption (defined as 1-2 drinks/day for men, 1 drink/day for women) may have beneficial effects on HDL while being relatively safe from a general health perspective.

As far as which wine or alcohol product is best, there have been studies to suggest that any alcoholic beverage will do when equivalent in alcohol content to the moderate definition. But there’s a tremendous difference between drinking a piña colada and a glass of merlot. Even moderate alcohol consumption can lose any potential benefit if various additives were mixed. For example, the extra calories and sugars that come with the piña colada will annihilate any benefits of the alcohol content.

There may be additional benefits from drinking wine specifically — especially if it is dry and if it is red. Dry wine is relatively low in sugar and red wine has a relatively high content of flavonoids (compounds with antioxidant properties).