We’re always hearing about how important it is to lower cholesterol to improve our heart health, but it’s not quite as straightforward as that. While it is vital that we take measures to reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in the body to improve heart health we also need to be focusing on increasing our good cholesterol – the stuff we need to keep our arteries clean and healthy.
There are two types of cholesterol – low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is the ‘bad’ cholesterol that we need to reduce, and HDL is the ‘good’ cholesterol that’s actually very beneficial for our overall health and wellbeing. Having a healthy cholesterol level isn’t just about having low LDL, it’s also about having high HDL – what it all comes down to is cholesterol ratio. A good cholesterol ratio should be less than 4:1. This means that if you have 3mmol/L of LDL, you should aim to have at least 1 mmol/L of HDL. So how can you boost your good cholesterol?
How to Manage Your Cholesterol Ratio
Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels isn’t about making one single change – it’s about combining a range of simple dietary and lifestyle changes to help take care of your heart. There are 3 steps everyone should take to help maintain a healthy cholesterol level:
- Increase Intake of Cholesterol Lowering Foods
Bad cholesterol can be reduced by limiting foods that are high in cholesterol, such as fats (butter, lard, dripping etc.), dairy products (cream, full fat milk, and yogurts), and fatty meats like pork belly or cheap sausages. You can even enjoy a little helping hand from food products enriched with plant stanols and sterols – there are margarine-type spreads that contain similar natural ingredients to those found in oats and beans.
- Increase Intake of Foods that Boost Good Cholesterol
Foods with polyphenols – a type of micronutrient – are thought to play a major role in heart health, and studies have found that HDL levels increased significantly when participants increased their intake of berries that are naturally high in polyphenols. Other foods that are high in polyphenols include warming spices such as cloves, rich dark chocolate, red wine, onions, coffee, and nuts like hazelnuts and pecan nuts.
- Focus on Healthy Living
Improving your cholesterol levels isn’t just about eating right – it’s about exercising regularly, too, and it’s important to put into practice all those good living tips you’ve heard over the years. Exercise has long been shown to help improve cholesterol levels – most notably by helping the body to process it. Studies have found that exercise can help the body move LDL – the bad cholesterol – from the bloodstream into the liver, where it can be turned into bile and excreted so that it doesn’t continue to build up in the arteries and restrict blood flow.
So don’t just focus on lowering bad cholesterol when you’re trying to become healthier – look at boosting your good cholesterol levels, too. The good news is that many of the foods that increase good cholesterol aren’t what we’d traditionally call healthy – chocolate, wine, and spicy curries, for example – so you might find that your diet becomes much more interesting! But don’t forget – some of these HDL-boosting foods can be high in calories, so everything in moderation.