Lower your cholesterol

Eating a healthy diet and regular exercise can help lower the level of cholesterol in your blood.

Adopting healthy habits, such as eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising, will also help prevent your cholesterol levels from becoming high in the first place.

It's important to keep cholesterol in check because high cholesterol levels increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

If you're concerned about your cholesterol, talk to your GP.

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Foods containing cholesterol

Some foods contain cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is called dietary cholesterol. Foods such as kidneys, eggs and prawns are higher in dietary cholesterol than other foods.

The cholesterol found in food has much less of an effect on the level of cholesterol in your blood than the amount of saturated fat that you eat. 

If your GP has advised you to change your diet to reduce your blood cholesterol, the most important thing to do is to cut down on saturated fat. It's also a good idea to increase your intake of fruit, vegetables and fibre.

Fats and cholesterol

There are two main types of fat – saturated and unsaturated. Eating foods that are high in saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • meat pies
  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • butter
  • ghee
  • lard
  • cream
  • hard cheese
  • cakes and biscuits
  • foods containing coconut or palm oil

Eating foods that contain unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat can actually help reduce cholesterol levels.

Try to replace foods containing saturated fats with foods that are high in unsaturated fats, such as:

  • oily fish (such as mackerel and salmon)
  • nuts (such as almonds and cashews)
  • seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin)
  • vegetable oils and spreads (such as sunflower, olive, corn, walnut and rapeseed oils)

Trans fats can also raise cholesterol levels. Trans fats can be found naturally at low levels in some foods, such as those from animals, including meat and dairy products.

Artificial trans fats can be found in hydrogenated fat, so some processed foods such as biscuits and cakes will contain trans fats.

As part of a healthy diet, try to cut down on foods containing trans fats or saturated fats and replace them with foods containing unsaturated fats.

You should also reduce the total amount of fat in your diet. Try microwaving, steaming, poaching, boiling or grilling instead of roasting or frying. Choose lean cuts of meat and go for low-fat varieties of dairy products and spreads, or eat just a small amount of full-fat varieties.

Fibre and cholesterol

There are two different types of fibre – soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Most foods contain a mixture of both.

Soluble fibre can be digested by your body (insoluble fibre cannot), and it may help reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood.

Good sources of soluble fibre include:

  • oats
  • beans
  • peas
  • lentils
  • chickpeas
  • fruit and vegetables

Try to include more of these foods in your diet. Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Find out more about eating 5 A DAY.

Cholesterol-lowering products

There's evidence that foods containing certain added ingredients, such as plant sterols and stanols, can reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood.

Sterols and stanols can be found in specially developed products, such as some spreads and yoghurts.

These foods are aimed at people who need to lower their cholesterol levels. People who don't have high cholesterol shouldn't eat these products regularly, particularly children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

If your doctor has told you that you have high cholesterol, you can lower it by changing your diet without having to eat special products.

If you do eat foods that are designed to lower cholesterol, read the label carefully to avoid eating too much.

Get active

An active lifestyle can also help lower cholesterol levels. Activities can range from walking and cycling to more vigorous exercise, such as running and dancing.

Doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week can improve your cholesterol levels.

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you're working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.

One way to tell whether you're working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can't sing the words to a song.

Find out more about getting more active and achieving your recommended activity levels.

Page last reviewed: 28/07/2013

Next review due: 28/07/2015

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The 16 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

PaddyMonster said on 05 September 2014

A few valid questions.Why does cholesterol levels increase with a high fat/low carb diet? No, it's not because t of cholesterol in high fat foods. It's because low carb diets allow you to gain access to your fat stores because of lower insulin levels. As cholesterol is stored along with body fat (as an invaluable metabolite) it is released when losing weight as 'so called' good cholesterol (inappropriately named). So cholesterol levels are elevated. When you no longer lose weight the overall cholesterol level in the blood, i.e. the amount transported for the body's needs, will generally be lower than if you were on a high carb(read 'normal')diet. Also your triglycerides will be lower. Why does this happen?

A normal (read 'high carb') diet puts quite a stress on the metabolism. We have very little capacity to store glucose. most of our carb intake is converted to saturated fat by this liver. The liver also increases it's cholesterol production accordingly which it stores with the body fat.(Aside: If cholesterol and saturated fat are so bad for us why does the evil liver produce them and store such nasty things in fat cells? Oh yes for our survival when times get hard.) So carbs increase cholesterol production and saturated fat production. Mmm!

PS Big up cholesterol! Lovely cholesterol is as follows; it makes up 10-50% of ALL cell membranes, internal and external, it is a precursor for vitamin D, its a precursor for sex hormones, it is a constituent of bile-used to digest fats, it is 25% of the dry weight of the brain (which depends on a patent supply of cholesterol as LDL - aka 'bad?cholesterol'. Time for a rebranding exercise dontcha think.

All this information is out there-and has been since Ancel Keys. It's about time we heard the other side. And don't get me started on statins!

If the'healthy heart' diet is good, why has the nation's health gone down the pan since the 70s and 80s. Look at the stats. CHD,T2D,obesity,Alz,cancer,stroke? RIP NHS

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10Degrees said on 23 August 2014

So good to see people thinking about what's being said and not just following the written word... When will NHS, and Heart UK, get their message updated to reflect most recent research? Some of this stuff is so out of date. I have recently been told I have a slightly high cholesterol level - my GP/practice nurse gave me the print out from the Heart UK siate which basically says "have a high carb diet"... which.. my current understanding tells me, is rubbish.

Come on... get up to date.. Please?

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Pussycatlover3 said on 10 June 2014

The advice on eating oily fish is not exactly accurate.

We are all being forcefed a recommended diet but nobody can seem to recognise that a low fat diet and a diet of plenty of oily fish are both bad for many people.

Many foods produce purins and oily fish is one of the worse foods for this, including seafood. Too many purins in the body will produce high levels of uric acid in the blood, resulting in gout and kidney stones. Therefore the recommendation ought to be to eat oily fish not more than twice a week and seafood only occasionally.

A diet fairly high in protein and fat is good for many conditions, including thrush.

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djpc said on 17 March 2014

This article had some good points except where the Saturated Fats are concerned.
It shocks me that a National Health System would advocate to reduce/remove saturated fats from the diet.
The body needs these health giving saturated fats, it just needs to be the right saturated fats say from fruits, nuts and some dairy products as well as cold water fish like salmon to name a few.

To remove saturated fat from the diet will cause more harm than good.

before taking this article on face value please do your own research especially about the oils.

If you research it well enough you will find more beneficial details about Olive and Coconut oils and more warnings about consuming vegetable, Corn, Sunflower and most other commercial oils. especially "rapeseed Oil" otherwise known as "Canola". As rapeseed is toxic to the human body in its natural state, to make it consumable involves many toxic and dangerous chemicals which leave trace elements with in the oil in which we then consume.

Apart from that the omega 3 and 6 ratio in the oil is packed way to much on the omega 6 side which is also dangerous to our bodies.

If you're that worried about cholesterol forget about any other oils apart from Olive ( great for salads etc) and Coconut, which is excellent for cooking. Both oils have the healthy Saturated fats required to Lower cholesterol.

As it has been commented on before.. Do Not take the information in this article at face value, you will do more harm than good and you'll only have yourself to blame.

In your pursuit for a happy healthy life, do research and more research. It's very easy to be deceived by companies with a monetary or political agenda.

P:S eggs are your friend no matter what you've been told.

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MindyD said on 20 February 2014

Came across this after wanting some more, general info. on cholesterol. My cholesterol level is currently within the normal range but heart disease comes from a lifestyle (or just pure unlucky genetics) and my family have cardiac history (even though some would perhaps argue that if you live long enough everyone will!). So I was wondering about some little changes I could make - not to reduce this level but to maintain and prevent it increasing as best as I can.

I found it helpful and informative. I try to eat as healthy as I can, but I do have the odd cake and chocolate bar. I eat eggs (most days), skimmed milk (after getting used to it) and fruit and veg (especially red peppers), I just can not wean myself off sugar in my tea! I exercise for half hour five days a week. I do however think that stress can cause a lot of problems - generally but also with cholesterol and that should be worth mentioning on here. I am very sceptical about sterols added to food (according to one leading brand you need 7 'portions' of their sterol products to benefit), I'd rather eat food with least possible modifying.

In reply to some of the other comments : Yes, the body needs a degree of fat/ cholesterol for cellular repair and function but this is explaining about these in excess. It's advice and I didn't interpret it as extreme as some other people, it's all about being sensible. I didn't read anywhere in the info that people should try to reduce normal levels. Saturated fat , especially in excess has long been known to contribute to heart disease. Statins, as with other medications aren't miracle cures - prevention will always be better than cure (although some research suggests a statin for those over 40 yrs old may be beneficial) medications are given after weighing up what's the most important , it's all about trying to prevent dibilitating heart attacks and, more importantly in my opinion, strokes and vascular dementia.

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Catanna said on 15 February 2014

I have been diagnosed with high cholesterol at 7.6
I never eat fried food. Seldom eat sausages, pies or fatty meat. I drink Lacto-Free Milk. I eat only goats or sheep's cheese and yogurts.
Fruit and veg in small amounts due to IBS.Love eggs.
My G.P's only advise was to avoid eggs. I told her I love cakes and biscuits and have a sweet tooth, but that did not concern her. I am overweight.
Surely sugar turns to fat ? Which type of fat ?
I do not drink or smoke.
I believe in unsalted butter and want that to be the small amount of fat I eat in a day.
Exercise is limited due to knee and neck problems
I find the advise confusing.
What advise would you offer me ? I would be grateful. Thank you.
What would you advise

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Alan Heath said on 13 February 2014

With references to the below comments, there are clearly disagreements within the scientific community as to the role played by high fat foods.
On the other hand having got used to low fat milk, I am not going back to full fat just in case something turns up in the future.
However there are some things everyone agrees with such as the role played by hydrogenated oils and trans fats which need to be avoided as well as exercising and keeping weight to within certain limits. Furthermore almost everyone agrees to the positive effects of fibre and the need for fresh fruit and vegetables.
With that in mind, I would be wary of margarines which may contain plant steroids but are made of hydrogenated oils which the liver may find difficult to digest.
The way I see it, one needs to eat fresh and not processed food as well as to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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TheRealRealRaw said on 05 February 2014

This is pretty bad advice, as others have mentioned.

To elaborate, look at this diagram: http://static.wikidoc.org/8/8f/Steroidogenesis.gif

Cholesterol is the starting point for all of the sex hormones as well as anti-stress hormones like cortisol.

This is a critical nutrient and lowering it in the hopes of being healthier is irrational.

Maybe one day science won't be tarnished by politics and the recommendations derived from it will start to make sense. Until then - think, read and experiment.

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timmalvern said on 04 December 2013

“Cholesterol in food has no impact on cholesterol in the blood and we've known that all along.” Ancel Keys.
Therefore eating food that contains cholesterol will not make any difference to the total cholesterol in your body. Also saturated fat is used by your body for energy and it's sugar etc that is changed into fat storage. I'm totally shocked by this mad brain washed world that is following a death path and dropping their vital cholesterol down to danger levels. Statins cross the brain barrier unlike Cholesterol, therefore taking statins depletes vital cholesterol in your brain and as all nurses and doctors know with low brain cholesterol you also have low brain memory,and function.And to finish on a good point, Some people taking statins sometimes complain of muscle pain. Well don't forget the heart is also a muscle?

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raylord said on 30 November 2013

We should not underestimate the effect of high sugar in the diet.
Sugar increases the levels of LDL and reduces HDL. See http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20100420/high-sugar-diet-linked-lower-good-cholesterol.
I have followed the 5/2 diet for a year and rather than reducing my cholesterol and Triglycerides, they have increased even though my weight has reduced. It may be due to my misunderstanding of "eat what you want" in the non-diet days when I ate a lot of sweet things but did not overdose on fatty products.
As a man at 65 I exercise four times a week and have never been overweight.
Sugar on its own cannot increase your cholesterol or triglyceride, but I think that sugar is preferred by the body for energy, so it stores any fat and uses sugar in preference.
I intend to carry on with the 5/2 diet, but reduce the sweet things on non-diet days.

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Ukuk_Hai said on 01 July 2012

The "down" on saturated fats in this section are not warranted. Saturated fats in the diet make up a critically important component for overall health, including brain health, which is made up of a lot of saturated fats. I would urge the reader to do some more research on saturated fats in the diet, as the information contained here is not the most recent or up to date on the subject.

Why is it, that despite the reduction in so called unhealthy saturated fats in the western diet, we're actually getting fatter? We ate far more dietary fat in the decades before the 70's lower fat health craze but we're getting fatter and more unhealthy not healthier !!

My comment will probably be deleted as this forum appears to be censored and accepts current orthodoxies only.

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User683207 said on 06 June 2012

Cholesterol is a critical chemical. It's a basic building block for virtually every body function.
Without it or without adequate amounts, we suffer and die. It's required to create Vitamin D. It's required for nerve function, including all mental functions.
Cell membranes would disintegrate without it. Sex hormones require it. Digestion requires it. Even the heart requires it.
Since it's so necessary, it's clear lowering cholesterol levels too far must be harmful. It's so important that our bodies have a cholesterol-regulating function.
When levels are too low, it's manufactured in the liver.
Cholesterol is not fat. Fat and cholesterol bear virtually no resemblance to each other. Cholesterol is not made from fat.

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47jackd said on 05 December 2011

Would it be possible to have a list of food by its cholesterol content, so we can choose what is the best food to eat depending of the level of cholesterol we have?
I like cheese, Feta more than others, but can I eat it?

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User363614 said on 24 September 2011

"The diet-heart hypothesis has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, and yet, for complicated reasons of pride, profit and prejudice, the hypothesis continues to be exploited by scientists, fund-raising enterprises, food companies and even governmental agencies. The public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century."--George Mann, ScD, MD, Former Co-Director, The Framingham Study

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lesliehj said on 04 February 2011

I have just been diagnosed with High Cholesterol, I asked my Doctor for advise on Do's & Dont's, he was very vague really, and I was quite worried, naturally. I had used NHS choices before when I had an Arthroscopy so I have, come back again. Very Very Helpful. This has put my mind at rest, and will help me combat the condition.

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User289434 said on 26 November 2010

I am told that Seseme is good for cholesterol. Is it true?

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