10 Natural Ways To Increase Your HDL Cholesterol

The “good” cholesterol is your body’s cleanup crew and plays a big role in heart health. Here’s how to boost your numbers.

by Adam Meyer
Originally Published: 
A man eating salad at a cafe to increase his HDL cholesterol.
Mark Edward Atkinson/Getty

In the world of men's health, cholesterol stands as a double-edged sword, both a friend and a potential foe. Because although cholesterol gets a bad rap in most conversations, your body needs it to function properly. The two primary players in the cholesterol game are LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) and HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein). LDL, often dubbed 'bad' cholesterol, threatens your health when its levels increase, leading to arterial plaque and increasing your risk of heart disease. Conversely, HDL is your body's internal cleanup crew. Acting as 'good' cholesterol, it shuttles excess LDL cholesterol to your liver, playing a pivotal role in heart health by helping clear your arteries of cholesterol.

Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one in five U.S. adults has HDL cholesterol levels below the recommended 40 mg/dL. Additionally, research shows HDL cholesterol can increase longevity by reducing your risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, and cancer. So, for those looking to boost their heart health and add healthy years to their life, bolstering HDL levels isn't just a suggestion — it's a non-negotiable.

These ten evidence-based strategies can help give your HDL cholesterol the boost it deserves.

1 in 5

The number of adults who have HDL cholesterol levels below the recommended threshold.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

1. Get Your Cardio In

According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, regular aerobic exercise — such as walking, jogging, or cycling — can elevate HDL cholesterol levels. Physical activity increases blood flow, enhancing the heart's efficiency and promoting the circulation of HDL cholesterol. Regular exercise also helps decrease LDL cholesterol. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week for optimal results.

2. Eat More Healthy Fats

Fats in and of themselves are not something you need to be careful about restricting — it all depends on the type of fat. In fact, a 2022 study by the American Heart Association found that monounsaturated fats found in foods like olive oil, avocados, and nuts are linked to higher HDL levels. Incorporating these healthy fats into your diet not only boosts good cholesterol, but it also helps reduce inflammation, which left unchecked over time can damage healthy cells and organs. Swapping out saturated fats in cooking, like butter for olive oil, leads to lifelong heart health benefits. Eating less cured meats, sausage, and bacon helps too.

3. Drink Less Alcohol — But Enjoy A Glass Of Red Wine (Or Two)

Although excessive alcohol consumption is harmful, moderate consumption, especially of red wine, can boost HDL levels. A 2019 study published in the journal Molecules found that participants who drank red wine had significantly higher HDL levels than those who didn’t. That’s at least partially because red wine contains HDL-boosting antioxidants known as polyphenols. However, moderation is essential; for men, this generally means up to two drinks daily.

4. Consume More Foods With Omega-3s (Or Take A Supplement)

Omega-3 fatty acids — found abundantly in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines — play a critical role in increasing HDL cholesterol, according to one 2018 study. Regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids also reduces inflammation and decreases heart disease risk. If you’re not a fan of fish, consider taking an omega-3 supplement. Just know that it’s better for your health if you can get these essential nutrients straight from the source.

5. Shed Your Excess Weight

Losing even a few extra pounds can lead to higher HDL cholesterol. According to a 2021 study, weight loss, especially around the abdominal area, boosts good cholesterol levels, decreases bad cholesterol, and reduces the risk of cardiometabolic conditions and cardiovascular diseases. So focus on your diet, cut some calories, and find at least a little time for both cardio and strength training.

6. Eat More Soluble Fiber

Foods rich in soluble fiber, such as oats, beans, lentils, avocado, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, can boost HDL and decrease LDL cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fiber helps reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Incorporating fiber-rich foods in your diet — whether through a sweet smoothie, a bowl of oatmeal loaded with nuts, chia seeds, and berries, or a savory bean, vegetable, and lentil soup — enhances heart health while improving digestion.

7. Drink Green Tea

A 2019 study published in the Nutrition Journal showed that drinking green tea decreased bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels, improving the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol. Other research has found that the antioxidants present in green tea help improve cholesterol balance and reduce inflammation. So add tea time to your day, and enjoy sampling the many varieties of green tea, from matcha to longjing.

8. Quit Smoking

Kicking your nicotine habit can lead to a notable improvement in HDL cholesterol levels. A meta-analysis published in the journal Toxicology Reports concluded that smokers have approximately 6.5% lower HDL levels than non-smokers. Although it’s by no means easy, over time, giving up cigarettes can significantly raise your HDL while enhancing overall cardiovascular health, improving your fertility and the health of any future children you have, and adding up to 10 years to your life expectancy.

9. Limit Trans Fats

You’ve heard that trans fats are bad for you. The whole reason why is that they do a double whammy of lowering HDL cholesterol while raising LDL cholesterol. Avoiding trans fats — often labeled as "partially hydrogenated oils" in processed foods like microwave popcorn, baked goods, and chips — is extremely important for lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke.

10. Eat More Plant Sterols and Stanols

Plant sterols and stanols, naturally found in small amounts in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains, are chemically very similar to cholesterol but can reduce LDL cholesterol levels to improve your cholesterol balance. A 2018 study published in Nutrients found that plant sterols and stanols have a more significant LDL-lowering effect on men than women. These plant-based compounds compete with cholesterol for absorption in the digestive system, reducing LDL and improving HDL. And, according to the Cleveland Clinic, a diet rich in these nutrients could lower cancer risk by up to 20%.

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