Cholesterol: what you need to know
LDL cholesterol should be 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults as per the official NHS advice, but the ratio of LDL to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – the good stuff that helps keep the arteries clear – is just as important. A ratio higher than four increases the risk of heart disease.
You can reduce levels of LDL cholesterol in your body by stopping smoking, exercising regularly and adopting a healthy, balanced diet, which is low in saturated fat and packed with LDL cholesterol-lowering staples.
But it's also a good idea to stock up on superfoods that increase good cholesterol to help regulate your LDL/HDL ratio. Here are 10 of the best HDL cholesterol-boosters to add to your shopping trolley.
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Replacing artery-clogging saturated fats in your diet like butter and lard with healthier unsaturated fats is the way forward. Polyunsaturates, which include sunflower oil, help increase HDL cholesterol but monounsaturated fats such as olive oil are best – a recent study found that extra-virgin olive oil doesn't just increase HDL levels, it improves HDL function, too.
The health benefits of different oils
If olive oil isn't to your taste, opt for rapeseed instead. This heart-healthy oil, which is loaded with monounsaturates, contains the least saturated fat of all the oils (all oils contain saturated fat to varying degrees). Adding to its appeal, rapeseed oil has a distinct advantage over olive oil – a higher smoke point. This makes it more suitable for cooking at high temperatures.
Healthy fats: the fats that are good for your health
Groundnut or peanut oil is another monounsaturated oil that can help elevate levels of HDL cholesterol in the body, and like rapeseed, groundnut oil is suitable for higher temperature cooking. Just don't go overboard. All dietary fats, whether they're saturated or not, are packed with calories and should be used sparingly, especially if you're trying to lose weight.
Good fats vs bad fats
Oily fish contain omega-3 fatty acids which can raise HDL and lower levels of LDL cholesterol according to Heart UK. Aim for two to three portions a week if you can, and even better, swap a couple of your red meat -based meals with salmon, mackerel or sardines to reduce your saturated fat intake on top of boosting the omega-3s in your diet.
Sources of omega 3 for people who don’t like salmon
Recipe: creamy sardines on toast
Walnuts are rich in monounsaturates and polyunsaturates, plus they contain decent levels of omega-3 fatty acids, so it comes as no surprise that a study published last year found that participants who ate a handful of walnuts a day had significantly lower LDL readings and higher levels of HDL cholesterol.
10 healthy reasons to eat nuts
Recipe: walnut and black bean wrap
Walnut aren't the only nuts that boast HDL cholesterol-boosting powers. Like other tree nuts, almonds are jam-packed with heart-healthy fats that help raise HDL levels in the body. In fact, a trial conducted in 2015 reported that participants who ate a small portion of unsalted almonds every day had increased the levels of HDL cholesterol in their body by 14% after just six weeks.
Recipe: almond and raspberry cake
Recipe: chicken with apricots and almonds
Avocados are proven to both lower LDL cholesterol and raise levels of the good stuff. The trendy salad favourite is packed with soluble fibre and plant sterols, which reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in the body, in addition to monounsaturated fat, which as we know, boosts HDL cholesterol as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Recipe: hot smoked trout and avocado salad
Recipe: avocado on toast
Next time you rustle up a chilli con carne, you can improve your LDL/HDL ratio by increasing the ratio of kidney beans to saturated fat-heavy beef mince. Kidney beans are bursting with antioxidants and research published last year has linked diets high in antioxidants with raised HDL cholesterol levels.
Recipe: mixed bean bake
Blueberries are an even better source of antioxidants, and like other berries such as raspberries, blackcurrants and strawberries, they help elevate levels of HDL cholesterol in the body. A recent study found that HDL levels rose 5% in adults who ate a small bowl of berries every day for eight weeks.
10 healthiest berries
Recipe: healthy blueberry ripple frozen yogurt
A study carried out in 2000 by researchers at the University of Western Ontario in Canada suggests that drinking several glasses of orange juice a day can increase HDL cholesterol levels by up to a fifth. The researchers put this down to a bioflavonoid in oranges called hesperidin, which has been shown in trials to promote higher levels of good cholesterol in the body.
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