Sometimes it seems like medical professionals talk in code. Has your doctor talked to you about your cholesterol and thrown around the terms "HDL" and "LDL"? Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body needs to make bile acids, hormones and vitamin D. Low-density lipoprotein or "bad" cholesterol can clog your arteries and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke or coronary artery disease. High-density lipoprotein is "good" cholesterol and carries LDL out of your bloodstream to your liver for disposal. The best way to bring up your HDL levels is through a few significant lifestyle changes, although some individuals may need medication to manage their numbers.
Have your physician perform a baseline cholesterol test. This will give you your HDL number. If your HDL is less than 40 milligrams per deciliter, you are considered at risk for heart disease. Ideally, your HDL should be 60 milligrams per deciliter or higher.
Cut trans fats out of your diet. Trans fats are made by combining hydrogen with vegetable oil through a chemical reaction called hydrogenation. Although regular vegetable oil is heart-healthy, the hydrogenation process strips the oil of any nutritional value. Trans fats increase your levels of LDL cholesterol and diminish your levels of HDL. These fats are found in many commercial baked goods, including cookies, cakes and crackers. Read the ingredient labels on the back of packaged foods to make sure each item has no trans fats.
Develop a weight-loss plan. For every 6 pounds you lose, your HDL may improve by up to 1 milligram per deciliter, according to the Mayo Clinic. Physical activity is an excellent way to lose weight and improve your HDL score. After two months of regular exercise, you may see your HDL increase by up to 5 percent. Aim for at least half an hour per day of walking, jogging or other aerobic activity.
Make the fat you eat count. Healthy fats such as olive, peanut and canola oil improve HDL's ability to function as an anti-inflammatory agent, according to the Mayo Clinic. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, flaxseeds and walnuts will help you to balance your LDL and HDL levels. Fat should constitute no more than 25 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake.
Eat a diet rich in whole grains. These include bran, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread, which may help to balance your overall cholesterol levels.
Throw away your cigarettes. In addition to giving your wrinkles, yellow teeth and possibly cancer, smoking also messes with your cholesterol levels. Give up your smokes and you may see a considerable improvement in your HDL levels.
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