Your body needs healthy carriers of cholesterol, called high density lipoproteins (HDL). These cholesterol carriers can actually reduce the risk of heart disease by helping the body get rid of unhealthy levels of cholesterol and even reverse the process of arterial damage resulting from cholesterol plaques.
When the baseline level of these healthy carriers of cholesterol increases in the blood by even a small amount (even just one milligram per deciliter), there results a five percent decrease in the risk of death from heart disease. You can see that even a small increase in these healthy carriers can be very important for a person’s health.
The first step in raising these healthy cholesterol levels (HDL) is first to make changes in your lifestyle. Quitting smoking, losing weight, aerobic exercise, and a heart healthy diet are all effective changes to increase these levels.
What really is a heart healthy diet specific to increasing HDL? Identifying a specific nutrient or dietary plan to raise the HDL is challenging. There are no specific recommended guidelines of dietary therapy to raise HDL. However, there is evidence from studies which suggests that certain dietary habits can influence the HDL levels in the blood.
For many years now, healthy eating has included lowering the amount of fat in the diet (to less than 30 percent of calories per day). The kind of fat included in the diet is also important. Saturated fats coming from animal products (meat and dairy) and tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel), are the most dangerous for raising cholesterol. Heart healthy diets have recommended using unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats include two kinds—monounsaturated (olive, canola, and peanut oils) and polyunsaturated (safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn, and cottonseed). Both kinds are liquid at room temperature and are found mainly in vegetable oils. When a liquid oil is changed into a solid fat by adding hydrogen (hydrogenation), it becomes a saturated or trans fat. Trans fats and saturated fats are the main dietary factors in raising blood cholesterol.
Olive Oil Consumption
When the daily food intake limits fat to less than 30 percent and primarily uses polyunsaturated oil as the source of fat, both the bad cholesterol (LDL) and also the healthy (HDL) cholesterol are lowered. However, when the diet primarily uses monounsaturated oils as the source of fat calories, it has been found that healthy cholesterol (HDL) can be raised. A primary example is olive oil consumption, which increases HDL-cholesterol levels and also decreases the bad cholesterol.
You probably have heard about the Mediterranean diet. Studies have shown that individuals can greatly benefit their heart health by adopting characteristics of the Mediterranean diet. This diet recommends nuts, whole-meal bread, cereals, and a variety of raw or cooked, fresh, or dried fruit, vegetables, and legumes. Olive oil is recommended as the main source of added fat. Moderate to low amounts of dairy products, fish, and poultry, limited use of eggs (0-4 times weekly), and very little red meat are recommended.
It is quite easy to see that a vegetarian or vegan diet easily fits within these guidelines. However, probably the greatest unique challenge is limiting the quantity of fat intake to olive oil.