Reducing cholesterol

Making changes to the food you eat and being more active can help lower your cholesterol to normal levels.

In some cases, particularly if you are older or at greater risk, you may also need to take a cholesterol-lowering medicine like a statin. Statins are very effective, safe and well tolerated and have been shown to reduce heart attacks.

 
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Low Cholesterol Diets & High Cholesterol Foods

Cholesterol and Our Diets

Eating too much saturated fat increases cholesterol levels.  However, research has shown that cutting down on saturated fat and replacing it with everyday foods that contain more unsaturated fat can improve our cholesterol levels. 

Foods that increase cholesterol

Eating too much saturated fat increases cholesterol levels. This is why it is best to limit the amount of foods we eat that are high in saturated fats such as:

  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Hard margarines
  • Lard, dripping and goose fat
  • Fatty meat and meat products such as sausages
  • Full fat cheese, milk, cream and yogurt
  • Coconut and palm oils and coconut cream

Additionally, many foods such as milk chocolate, toffee, cakes, puddings, pastries, pies and rich biscuits, which are made from the list above can also increase cholesterol.

Foods that naturally help to lower cholesterol

Plants do not contain cholesterol and are usually low in saturated fat so vegetables and other plant-based foods should feature regularly in a diet to lower cholesterol. These include oat cereals, barley fruit, vegetables, soya foods and drinks, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds such as:

  • Porridge
  • Oatbran
  • Oat breakfast cereals
  • Bread made with 50% oat flour or oat bran
  • Oatcakes
  • Pearl barley
  • Baked beans
  • Adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, butter beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, edamame beans, kidney beans, lima beans, mung beans, navy beans, pinto beans, split peas, white beans
  • Red lentils, green lentils
  • Vegetables rich in soluble fibre such as okra, aubergine, citrus fruits, turnip, sweet potato and mango
  • Unsalted soya nuts (also called roasted edamame beans)
  • Soya alternative to milk
  • Soya alternative to yoghurt
  • Soya mince/chunks
  • Tofu
  • Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, cashews, peanuts (always unsalted)

There's lots more advice on the six super foods that help lower cholesterol.

Foods Fortified with Plant Stanols or Plant Sterols

Sterols and stanols are naturally found in plants in very small amounts. Foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols have been shown to lower cholesterol levels by reducing the amount of cholesterol our body can recycle. Foods fortified with plant stanols or sterols are now readily available in the chiller cabinet of most stores.  Take a look at our section on Foods Fortified with Plant Stanols or Sterols for more information.

Cholesterol Food Myths – Eggs, Liver, Kidneys and Prawns

You may have read or heard about avoiding foods which are naturally rich in cholesterol. These include eggs, liver and kidneys, and seafood such as prawns. Whilst we do get some of our cholesterol from these animal foods – most of us don’t need to limit these because they are also low in saturated fat.  If in doubt talk to your health care professional or call or email our cholesterol helpline
 

The silent killer

Most people don’t know they have raised cholesterol. There are no clear symptoms. For some, the first sign might be a heart attack.

Fact sheets
Fact sheets

HEART UK has produced a range of diet and medical fact sheets for you to use and refer to.

 
Staying healthy

Eating a healthy diet, not smoking and being physically active are important in helping to keep your cholesterol and other blood fats low.

Clogged artery animation

Excess blood cholesterol becomes stuck in the linings of an artery, eventually the artery narrows.