Not all cholesterol is bad, and high levels of HDL are actually beneficial. Raising your HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, isn’t as difficult as you may think. Through diet and a few lifestyle changes, you’ll be able to boost your HDL while following your vegetarian diet. By elevating your good cholesterol, your risk of having heart problems later on in life decreases.
Why You Need It
High-density lipoprotein is the good type of cholesterol that improves your overall cholesterol levels. As HDL molecules roam through your blood, they pick up harmful low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, particles along the way. These good high-density lipoprotein compounds transport the bad cholesterol particles to your liver, where they break down and are excreted through waste. Generally, the more HDL you have in your system, the lower your LDL levels. Your ideal high-density lipoprotein should be more than 60 milligrams per deciliter, according to MayoClinic.com. If your HDL falls below 50 milligrams per deciliter, your risk of heart disease increases.
Getting More Good Fats
Boost your high-density lipoprotein by getting more healthy fats in your diet. Fortunately, many vegetarian-friendly foods are full of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, or MUFAs and PUFAs for short. Vegetable oils, avocados, nuts and seeds are rich in MUFAs and PUFAs and fit perfectly into your meat-free entrees. Flaxseeds, flax oil, soy foods and walnuts are particularly high in a type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3. These omega-3-rich sources are highly beneficial for lowering LDL, while raising HDL. No more than 20 to 35 percent of your overall calories should come from any type of fat, however. If you stick to an 1,800-calorie daily diet, you can have 360 to 630 calories from fat or 40 to 70 grams, since fats have 9 calories per gram.
Eliminate the Bad Fats
If you eat dairy foods or a lot of processed foods, you could be getting too much saturated and trans fats in your diet. Saturated fats are also concealed in coconut and palm oils, so read food labels carefully to ensure your foods aren’t hidden sources of this bad fat. Both saturated and trans fats can spike your LDL to unsafe levels and don’t do anything to improve your HDL. Keep your saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of your total calories and trans fats to under 1 percent, MayoClinic.com advises. This amounts to a maximum of 20 grams of saturated fat and 2 grams of trans fat per day for an 1,800-calorie diet.
Moderate amounts of alcohol, especially red wine, could also be helpful for boosting HDL, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth explains. Limit yourself to just one glass each day, though, as too much alcohol can have negative effects on your cholesterol. Eat more purple fruits and veggies – purple carrots, cabbage, plums and purple grapes, just to name a few. These foods are rich in anthocyanins, a food compound valuable for elevating your HDL. Lastly, get rid of all those sugary and refined carbohydrate foods. White bread, soda, pasta, pastries and other processed foods can lower your HDL, making it more difficult for you to get back on track.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.