In praise of good cholesterol

It’s a common misconception that all cholesterol is bad for your health. Nuffield Health Professional Head of Physiology, Justin Jones, explains not only what good cholesterol is, but also how to increase the levels of it in your system.

The ‘good’ cholesterol in question is often known as high-density lipoprotein, or HDL. This does the job of carrying bad cholesterol away from your cells and back to the liver. From there, the harmful cholesterol is processed, broken down or disposed of as a waste product. A build-up of bad cholesterol is a primary contributing factor to narrowing of your blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases.

Think of it this way – bad cholesterol is like rubbish. It clutters up the roads, causing blockages and real problems if there’s too much in one place. But good cholesterol (HDL) is like a fleet of rubbish trucks, picking up and transporting the bad stuff to a place where it can be dealt with safely. The more HDL you have, the cleaner the highways and byways of your body, and the more smoothly things run.

Cardiovascular and heart disease are known to be caused by inflammation. There are many health indicators which contribute to inflammation including high blood sugar levels, elevated blood pressure and of course, too much bad cholesterol. HDL cholesterol has been shown to have key anti-inflammatory properties.

Here are a few positive steps you can take, which can help to increase levels of HDL and in turn lower your risk of cardiovascular disease:

1. Get moving

Aerobic exercise, like swimming, cycling or jogging can increase HDL levels. If you manage to lose weight in the process, that’s an added bonus, as reducing excess weight will increase levels too. We should be aiming for at least 150 minutes of this activity per week. Find out more about achieving a healthy weight here.

2. Quit smoking

Along with increasing your risk for other diseases, smoking reduces the levels of HDL in your body. Simply, stopping smoking is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your overall health and wellbeing. Check out the first steps towards giving up smoking

3. Eat more fish

Not the stuff from the chip shop, but rather oily fish like salmon and mackerel, which are full of omega-3 and can, you guessed it, help to increase HDL levels. A good place to start is pepper-crusted salmon with chickpeas.

(Note: Fish intake should be limited to two portions of oily fish per week during pregnancy.)

4. Aim for the rainbow

The more variety of vegetables and fruit in your diet the better. That stands as a general rule, but if you want to increase HDL levels then look to the most colourful options. Increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption will also help tackle those risk factors for inflammation. Explore your options, try something new and get inventive with recipe ideas

Last updated Tuesday 21 June 2022

First published on Friday 3 February 2017