HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is known as the “good cholesterol” as it protects us from cardiovascular disease (CVD). This is because HDL helps carry cholesterol molecules from the tissues to the liver, where it is processed and discarded.
Why is HDL Cholesterol Important?
Lower than normal HDL levels are associated with an increased risk of developing CVD, especially coronary heart disease (CHD). Higher HDL levels are considered to decrease this risk, exerting a protective effect against coronary events, such as heart attack or sudden death.
How Common is Cardiovascular Disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death in the world, and most Asian countries like Philippines, Malaysia, or Singapore are no exception. People from Southern Asia have the highest prevalence of low HDL, contributing to their heightened risk of developing CVD.
In China, 67% of male adults were found to have low HDL. In other Asian countries, prevalence is as much a concern, with 53% of adult women in Taiwan having low HDL.
Although low HDL and high cholesterol levels contribute to CVD, there are many other significant risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, cholesterol, and obesity– ALL of which can be improved through the right lifestyle and dietary choices as seen below.
What Can You Do to Increase and Maintain Healthy HDL Cholesterol Levels?
Adopting certain healthy lifestyle habits can help you to achieve optimal HDL levels and reduce markedly your risk of CVD. They include:
1. Eating healthily
An adequate daily diet should be composed of a total of 50% carbohydrates, 30% fats, and 20% proteins; divided into three regular meals and two snacks.
This can be easily achieved in every meal by dividing your plate into four parts. Two parts should be filled with vegetables and fruits, one part with protein, and the other part with carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates: This food group include fruits, legumes, vegetables, grains, and sugars. Some examples are sweet potato, yam, tapioca, pumpkin, potatoes, corn, dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, yellow dhal, lotus seed, rice, barley, oats, pineapples, guava, papaya, strawberries, starfruit, watermelon, mangoes, and jackfruit.
Processed carbohydrates and refined sugar should be avoided when possible (baked goods, sweets, bread, among others).
Fats: This food group can be divided into four types, which are monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fats.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are both related to a decreased risk of coronary heart disease. It includes vegetable oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, marine oils, and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and herring.
Saturated and trans fats are both related to an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Saturated fats come primarily from animal products, and should represent less than 10% of the total daily calorie intake. On the other hand, trans fats (found in processed snacks, deep-fried foods, hydrogenated margarine, and bakery goods) should represent less than 1% of the daily calorie intake.
Proteins: this food group can come from either animal or vegetable sources, including meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, and processed soy products.
Contrary to popular belief, eating one egg per day has not been associated with an increase in cardiovascular risk.
It has been proven that exercising for at least 30 minutes per day over 5 days a week can significantly decrease the risk of heart disease. There is no golden rule as to how much you should exercise, but the general rule is this: a sedentary lifestyle leads to many health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
The choice is clear!
3. Avoid Smoking and Drinking Alcohol
Cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol intake (more than 1 drink per day in women and 2 drinks per day in men) are important factors that contribute to tissue inflammation, decreased blood flow, and heart disease.
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obesity increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease by approximately 50% in women and 60% in men. A person’s waist circumference, which correlates with abdominal fat, should not reach more than 80 cm in women and 90 cm in men.
Lower than normal levels of HDL is harmful to our health, particularly with heart disease and strokes. And it is a very common finding which we do not pay enough attention to. The good news is, there’s a simple blood test which can tell you if your HDL is low– and there are numerous low-cost methods that can improve your HDL levels and significantly reduce your risk of CVD.
If you’re interested in learning more about HDL and the consequences of abnormal levels of it, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!
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