5 Foods That Raise Your HDL

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5 Foods That Increase Your HDL

Written by Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian

So you got the results of your recent cholesterol test, and your HDL cholesterol came back low. Since low HDL is a risk factor for heart disease, you know that you need to elevate it...but how? When all the stories you read are talking about lowering your total cholesterol, why would you want to increase this form of cholesterol?

HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the "good" cholesterol. It acts like a cholesterol dump truck, gathering "bad" cholesterol from the arteries and carrying it back to the liver for clearance. This heart protective effect may even slow the buildup of plaque in the arterial walls of the heart. HDL may also have some anti-inflammatory effects that are beneficial to your heart. That's why you want your HDL to be high, so it can better carry out these responsibilities and protect your ticker.

What should my HDL be?

According to the American Heart Association, men should aim for HDL levels of 40 mg/dL or greater, and women should aim higher than 50 mg/dL. Levels of 60 mg/dL or more for both genders have been linked to lower disease risks and protection against heart disease. Genetics can affect your HDL level, but lifestyle choices still also play a role. If you want to fight your genes and improve your HDL levels, the following foods can help.


Walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, pecans, peanuts, and hazelnuts are all good sources of heart-healthy fats and are great to add to your diet to increase your intake. Add nuts to cereal, yogurt, salad, stir fries, pasta dishes or rice. You can eat them raw, baked or lightly toasted, too.


Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, and halibut are highest in omega-3 fatty acids, a specific type of unsaturated fat shown to be most beneficial for heart health and reduce the risk of death by heart attack. It is recommended to eat at least 2 servings of fish per week. If you don't eat seafood, you could try fish oil supplements; flaxseed and walnuts contain omega 3’s as well, but fish contains the most usable form of omega-3s.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is high in unsaturated fats and can help you elevate your HDL. Replace butter and fried foods with foods cooked lightly in a heart-healthy olive oil, and switch to an oil-based vinaigrette for your salads. Oil is healthy, but it's high in fat and calories, so remember to practice moderation and keep your portions in check!


Although many dieters shy away from this fruit because of its high fat content, it's perfectly good for you thanks to its heart-healthy fats. Mash avocado to use as a spread on your sandwich or wrap, dice it into your salad, add it to omelets or whip up some homemade guacamole to enjoy with veggies or whole grain crackers.


Fiber, especially soluble fiber, can help bump up your HDL while reducing LDL. Oatmeal is an excellent source of soluble fiber, as is rice, bran, barley, dried peas and beans, and certain fruits like prunes and apples. A couple servings a day of these heart-healthy foods can have a positive effect on your HDL.

Don't Forget Exercise!

Along with these HDL-boosting foods, don’t forget the daily exercise! Regular exercise signals your body to produce more HDL, making physical activity one of the most important factors to raising your HDL. Start with just 5-10 minutes a few days a week, but gradually increase until you're active for at least 30 minutes 5 days per week. Your heart will thank you!

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Member Comments on this Slideshow

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9/15/2015 4:06:01 PM

I love nuts but I can't have them,is there anything I can use to replace the nuts?


7/23/2015 11:55:12 PM

I think more the food; exercise is the BIGGEST hdl booster.


7/23/2015 9:11:12 AM

any way to get finicky eaters (kids) to like fish? they do like tuna which is gooc


7/23/2015 9:04:51 AM

KEN1939's SparkPage
Coconut oil & other MCT oils will raise HDL more than any of these food. Four tablespoons a day of these oils raised my HCL by 25%! Nothing else comes close to that for me.


6/25/2015 10:24:04 AM

miriam here, wanted to inform of my situation at the moment and see what advice you have thanks
my cholesterol --253 HDL 35---LDL 170---trygliceries --241
so now my doctor has me started on LIPITOR and JANUVIA SO im not an accessive eater, but i do have lots of stress --- so your suggestions, because i respect your comments and reasoning thanks


4/19/2015 2:04:10 PM

Love avocados, nuts & salmon. Just wish they weren't so $$.


1/24/2015 7:10:49 PM

KYCAROL's SparkPage
Just can't eat 2 servings of fish a week unless it's canned tuna. I do take Fish Oil daily though.


12/28/2014 12:33:50 PM

MARCIA3447's SparkPage
Love all the foods now I just need to get on track with other food groups!


12/19/2014 5:43:00 PM

I'm right there with all of these foods except the avocado.


11/13/2014 5:36:33 PM

I have work to do, thanks


9/15/2014 5:48:38 PM

BULLS_BEARS2000's SparkPage
love them all!!!


8/13/2014 9:34:09 AM

Unfortunately all the diet advice they give you to lower your total cholesterol results in you lowering your HDL along with your LDL and does nothing to help the real danger to you - your triglycerides levels. There are a couple great books that examine the diet-heart-health myth and dig out the real facts from years of misrepresented studies. Good Calories, Bad Calories is an exhaustive study. The Big Fat Surprise puts things more in layman's terms. Both are great reads.


7/25/2014 12:18:32 AM

ANITAMON1's SparkPage
I din't see on the list cashews? I love cashews


7/24/2014 10:15:30 PM

It seems like a slow process, but mine is coming up.


7/24/2014 7:47:22 PM

Enjoyed this blog and I do have a hard time understanding Good and Bad Cholesterol. The more I read the more understanding I have.

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