We are not used to hearing the term healthy cholesterol. Usually when we hear about cholesterol, we're sitting in our doctor's office being told that our cholesterol is too high, that our health is bad and that our poor diets have put us at risk for chronic illness.
You should know, however, that there are healthy fats in the body that are vital to our overall function and performance. Termed High Density Lipids (HDL), adequate healthy cholesterol levels are needed to maintain the shape and health of cells, remove bad cholesterol (LDL) and keep blood vessel walls clean, helping to prevent heart attacks.
A shift in eating culture occurred in the '80s when fats were demonized and blamed for an ever-expanding waistline. Turns out, this “low fat” trend in consumer products and marketing may have had the opposite effect on health. Removing fat from the diet and replacing it with carbohydrates and sugars took weight gain and waist size to new levels. Healthy fat in the diet is crucial to health and helps control appetite, waist size and hormone balance.
Recommended dietary intake of fat should not be below 20 percent of your total caloric intake. For example, if you're consuming a total of 2,000 calories a day, at least 400 of these calories should be from sources of healthy fat (since 20 percent of 2,000 equals 400).
Diets lower in fat can result in a decrease of HDL cholesterol, ultimately increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Getting a lipid panel test can tell you exactly where your cholesterol levels stand. HDL levels above 60mg/dL are considered healthy, anything below 40mg/dL is a risk factor for heart disease.
How can you boost your HDL levels naturally?
Light to moderate exercise, about 30-60 minutes most days of the week, can help the body use extra fat for fuel and raise HDL levels. Walking, hiking, yoga, and even leisurely bike riding all count! You don’t have to kill yourself at the gym to see a healthy result.
2. Quit smoking.
If you haven’t heard it yet, smoking is not good for you. Research has shown quitting smoking can help raise HDL levels. One more reason to put down the cigarettes!
3. Maintain healthy weight.
Eating clean, exercising and keeping your BMI within the normal range, 18.5 - 24.9, will not only make you feel great, but decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and raise your HDL.
4. Choose healthy fats.
While fats do pack a higher caloric punch, including the right ones in moderation will help boost HDL levels.
Avocado, nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, virgin coconut oil and fish like salmon or tuna are packed with healthy fats - include these in your diet!