What is HDL Cholesterol?

High density lipoprotein (HDL)  is commonly referred to as "good cholesterol" as it helps protect against diseases of the arteries. It is one of the proteins that carry fats (lipids) around the body and plays a key role in ensuring balanced cholesterol levels.

How is it made?

HDL is produced by the liver and forms part of your total cholesterol.

What does it do?

Its core function is to regulate the build-up of cholesterol in the body’s arteries by channelling the excess cholesterol to the liver to be expelled. This process helps to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and stroke by lowering the danger of clogging up arteries.

How to measure your HDL?

When it comes to HDL levels think H = High. Having high HDL levels is optimal as it ensures that it is doing its job. On average you want to ensure that your HDL is above 0.9mmol/L  (millimoles per litre)

How to improve your HDL?

Factors such as diet, exercise and weight gain can all contribute to low levels of HDL - thankfully all of these are addressable.

Dietary choices:

The following foods can help raise HDL levels:

  • Vegetables
  • Oily fish and fish oil supplements
  • Nuts and pulses
  • High fibre food
  • Olive oil

Diets such as the DASH and Mediterranean diets tend to be the most popular diets to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.


The NHS recommends 150 minutes a week of exercise, the type that leaves you out of breath, as a guideline of how much you should be doing to maintain your cholesterol levels (and to reap additional benefits as well).

Running, swimming, cycling and even walking are all good places to start. The more energy you spend exercising the better for your cholesterol level.

Other factors that can affect HDL:

Smoking - tobacco smoke can lower your HDL levels along with increasing your risk of developing heart complications in general so if applicable consider quitting.

Obesity - similar to smoking there are obvious health implications with being overweight, and so maintaining a healthy weight can help with improving your HDL levels.

Keep in mind

Because HDL has a protective role within our bodies, the aim is to reach as high a level as possible. Ensuring you have optimal HDL levels means that the excess LDL is being removed from your body and you're less at risk of developing heart disease.

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Aisling Moran BSc (Hons)

Written by Aisling Moran BSc (Hons)

24th Jun 2021 • 2 min read