Increasing HDL cholesterol level without increasing body fat percentage

I’ve reviewed a blood test my GP ordered recently – as far as she is concerned it’s fine because as a GP she’s only looking for diseases to treat, and the NHS doesn’t consider ageing a disease.

However I’ve had a look at the detailed results and the one that stands out to me is my HDL ratio - high-density lipoprotein is the good cholesterol that removes excessive LDL. My total cholesterol level is way below the recommended 5 mmol/L (193 mg/DL) at 3.1 but total/HDL ratio is 2.95. Transcend’s target is a ratio of less than 2.5, and as my total cholesterol is already pretty low, my only option is to try to increase my HDL.

The standard recommended approaches for increasing HDL are:

  1. Regular physical activity
  2. Lose extra weight
  3. Choose better fats
  4. Alcohol in moderation
  5. Stop smoking

Points 3, 4 and 5 I already do – my diet includes plenty of nuts and seeds and olive oil. Could I eat more? Probably not without worsening an already border line body fat percentage. I’m currently around 19% which is over Transcend’s maximum of 17%. My waist to hip ratio is also only average and if I want to live forever that needs to improve.

So I want to attack both low HDL and high body fat at the same time, therefore increasing good oils isn’t an option – but I’ll definitely be being more careful on bad oils and modify my diet to be lower in fat overall. This is a good reminder that health tips aren't a "one size fits all" solution - you really need to be monitoring your own health indicators so that you can help yourself to target your personal needs.

As for fitness, I’m active but maybe I have reduced the number of runs and gym visits over the last few years. And looking back over my blood test results spanning 5 years my HDL ratio has increased 2.55 to 2.95 – but even when I was really fit it still wasn’t in the optimal range. Which makes me think that as well as 2-3 high intensity sessions a week I need to make sure I’m doing the recommended 30 minutes a day of moderate activity most days of the week. This will hopefully help compensate for my sedentary lifestyle – I’m desk bound so apart from making cups of green tea I don’t move around as much as I should do.

Plan of Action

Here’s a summary of how I plan to increase HDL cholesterol levels at the same time as reducing body fat percentage.
1. Exercise – get back to 2-3 proper vigorous exercise sessions a week, plus making sure I do 30 minutes moderate exercise on the other days.
2. Diet – I’ve not worried how much olive oil I’ve used up to now, so will reduce that a little bit and try to fry food less. I’ll also reduce the number of treats I have – I’ve never been able to resist biscuits but not only are these high in fat it’s also probably the dreaded hydrogenated fat.
3. Supplements – most supplements are designed to reduce overall cholesterol levels so not appropriate for me, but phosphatidylcholine (PC) is a candidate as it also helps the cell membrane. However, I’d like to do more research before popping pills so for now I’ll start eating soya beans (which contain 0.7% PC) instead. FYI edamame beans are young soya beans (USA = soy beans).

I’ll get another blood test in 3-6 months time and report back as to how effective this approach was.

NOTE: Transcend recommendations are references to tips in Ray Kurzweil’s book Transcend – Nine Steps to Living Well Forever


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