Population studies have shown that low levels of HDL cholesterol—less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women—increase the overall risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attacks. A person whose HDL level is lower than 35 mg/dL has eight times the risk of CAD as someone with an HDL level of 65 mg/dL. Experts have long thought that boosting HDL levels promotes heart health. But while low HDL is a strong and well-established risk factor for heart disease, the evidence for raising HDL remains uncertain. But experts agree that taking these heart healthy steps are still worthwhile.
Researchers have found that moderate alcohol consumption—one or two drinks daily—can boost HDL levels, and it may offer other benefits for your heart.
One drawback of going on a low-fat diet for some people is that it lowers HDL levels. If raising your HDL cholesterol is a primary concern, you should replace carbohydrates in your diet with fats, preferably mono- and polyunsaturated fats. But avoid trans fat, which can lower HDL levels. These steps can lower both total cholesterol and LDL and maintain HDL or boost it slightly, improving the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL.