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How to lower cholesterol

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

Adopting healthy habits, such as eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising, will also help to 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 doctor.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommends that you regularly review with your doctor or specialist any medications you are taking for high blood pressure or high cholesterol to assess the ongoing benefits and risks. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

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.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • meat pies
  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • butter
  • 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 (for example, mackerel and salmon)
  • nuts (for example, almonds and cashews)
  • seeds (for example, sunflower and pumpkin)
  • vegetable oils and spreads (for example, 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).

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 effect on the level of cholesterol in your blood than the amount of saturated fat that you eat. The Heart Foundation recommends six eggs a week can be included as part of a diet low in saturated fat for all Australians.

If your doctor has advised you to change your diet to reduce the level of cholesterol in your blood, 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.

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.

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. Plant sterols and stanols are found in nuts, seeds and legumes, vegetable oils, breads and cereals and fruits and vegetables. You need to eat two to three grams a day of plant sterols and stanols to manage cholesterol.

To meet this requirement you also need to eat foods that have been enriched such as some margarines, low fat milks, low fat yoghurts and breakfast cereals, lower fat cheese and processed cheese. 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 help lower it by changing your diet.

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

Doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity on most days 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.

Last reviewed: October 2016

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