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Some cholesterol can be good for you
While elevated levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides can put you at increased risk of heart attack and stroke, there is a type of cholesterol that’s considered good for you. HDL (good) cholesterol is considered beneficial because it helps to remove cholesterol from the bloodstream and artery walls. With less cholesterol circulating through the bloodstream and being deposited on artery walls, the blood is able to flow more freely and reach important organs of the body, including the heart and the brain.
So for your cholesterol numbers, unlike lower levels being ideal for LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, the reverse is true for HDL (good) cholesterol; the higher your HDL number, the better. An HDL (good) cholesterol level less than 40 mg/dL is considered low and greatly increases your risk for developing heart disease or having a stroke. HDL (good) cholesterol levels of 60 mg/dL or higher may help lower your risk for heart disease.
Why are my HDL (good) cholesterol levels low?
Like high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol may sometimes be associated with metabolic syndrome, which is the term used and associated with certain characteristics, which include measurements for obesity, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, and high blood sugar levels. A diet high in saturated fats but low in unsaturated fats may also contribute to low HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Smoking is also associated with low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
How can I improve my HDL (good) cholesterol count?
As with high triglycerides and elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, modifying your diet and increasing your physical activity—which can both help with losing extra weight—can help improve HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Beyond just changing your diet to avoid foods high in trans and saturated fats (often found in snacks and junk food), increasing your intake of some kinds of fats—specifically monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in certain nuts, fish, and vegetables—can also help improve your HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Besides a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise, if you smoke, quitting smoking can help raise your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Additionally, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol (considered to be up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men) is associated with elevated HDL (good) cholesterol levels. However, it’s a good idea to double check with your doctor regarding moderate alcohol intake and if it may be appropriate for you.