Cholesterol is not often equated with good things. But we would all do well to remember that there are two varieties of cholesterol. There is LDL, the “bad” kind, the reason many of us purchase cholesterol-free foods. And there is HDL — the “good” one, which is very important in its own right.
Study after study has found that increasing one’s HDL levels could, in itself, reduce the risk of heart disease. That goes for anyone at all, even those with no history of heart issues. Study after study over the past few decades has revealed that HDL cholesterol could help shield the body from heart attack, stroke and heart failure. The equation that seems to occur is: the higher the HDL levels, the greater the heart protection. And the lower the HDL levels, the more likely it is that you may suffer a cardiovascular event.
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) consists of cholesterol molecules that can slowly build up in the arteries, contributing to the dangerous condition atherosclerosis — when the blood flow through a vessel is significantly blocked. Having high levels reflects an increased risk of heart disease. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) molecules, on the other hand, works in the reverse way: high levels seem to protect against atherosclerosis and heart attack. HDL actually carries cholesterol away from the arteries, returning it to the liver, and out of the body.
Cholesterol is far from all being the same. Naturally, it is a good idea to have healthy levels of HDL cholesterol. First, do some aerobic exercise every day, with the objective of raising your heart rate for at least 20 minutes. (Walking, jogging, bicycling, and swimming are all good.) Second, if you are overweight, trimming the waistline will increase good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. If you smoke, then quitting will immediately start raising HDL levels. Watch your fat intake, and especially cut down on saturated and trans fats (cutting the latter out altogether). Anything made with hydrogenated vegetable oil is simply not healthy. Lower your intake of processed foods and baked goods, and increase fruit and vegetable intake.
There’s a fine line with alcohol — a drink a day can significantly increase HDL levels, but imbibing more than two can cause serious heart problems. If you have the wherewithal to stop at one, then go for it.
Increase your intake of fiber, found not only in grains but in produce and legumes as well. Aim for monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and other healthy oils, which are terrifically healthy and increase HDL levels.
HDL cholesterol levels are something everyone can influence themselves. Your heart’s health is in your hands!