When you stroll the grocery-store aisles these days, it's hard to miss the cholesterol-related health claims—just check out the boxes of oatmeal, soy products, and even margarine that promise a healthier heart through lower LDLs. But that's only half the story. Many doctors and nutritionists believe that increasing HDL cholesterol is also crucial for reducing heart disease risk. The jury's still out on which foods can significantly raise HDL without increasing LDL, but preliminary findings indicate that the following foods may help—and certainly can't hurt.
Of all foods being tested for HDL-raising properties, alcohol, especially red wine, has the most conclusive results (Circulation, 2000, vol. 102, no. 19). "I don't encourage nondrinkers to take up drinking, but if a person already consumes alcohol, I recommend 1 to 2 ounces per day of red wine," says David Hurrell, MD, a Minneapolis- based cardiologist and founder of Holistic Heart Health.
Mediterranean countries have a much lower incidence of cardiovascular disease compared with the United States, where heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Scientists attribute this difference partly to Mediterranean people's high olive oil consumption (Circulation, 2001, vol. 103, no. 13). Substitute this tasty, monounsaturated fat-rich oil for butter.
Fiber-rich foods benefit both LDL and HDL (Archives of Internal Medicine, 2004, vol. 164, no. 4). Heart disease risk drops 10 percent to 30 percent for each 10 grams of fiber eaten daily. Enjoy oatmeal, barley, whole-wheat, and other cereals containing 5 or more grams of fiber per serving; munch on apples, pears, or berries, which top the high-fiber fruit list; and incorporate beans and other legumes into meals for a fiber-packed alternative to meat.
Certain species, including salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglyceride levels and may increase HDL cholesterol (Circulation, 2002, vol. 106, no. 21). Enjoy these fish for dinner at least twice a week.