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.
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
- 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:
- 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.
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.
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.