How to Lower Your Cholesterol with the Right Foods.

There are several ways to reduce your cholesterol levels without drugs if your cholesterol is high due to the amount of saturated fat you eat the diet.  Click here for information on normal cholesterol levels.

Exercise and diet are very important in this.  A healthy diet can help to reduce your cholesterol levels by over 10%, as well as making you slimmer and feel more energetic.

Choose healthier fats.


Lower cholesterol with healthy eating.

Foods that contain fat are made up of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.  You’ll need to get into the habit of reading food labels at the supermarket to determine which of the things you normally buy are good for you and which you need to avoid, or at least cut down on.

Cut down severely on saturated fat and replace them with monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.  Typically this means replacing butter with a healthy margarine (again, check the labels – some are formulated to help lower cholesterol).

Also cut down the total amount of fat that you eat.  This is really important if you are overweight because fat is very high in calories.  Foods like red meat, dairy foods – butter, cheese, full fat milk, – pastries, potato chips and cookies are very fatty.  Instead fill up on fresh fruit and vegetables, and starchy foods like rice and wholegrain, and choose low fat alternatives at the supermarket.  Look at the table below for advice.

How do cholesterol lowering fats work?

Monounsaturated fats work to lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and don’t lower the levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

Polyunsaturated fats help lower LDL cholesterol but also lower HDL cholesterol (the good one).

Omega 3 fats are a special type of polyunsaturated fat that helps to lower triglyceride levels, which is a good thing.

Do eat:

  • oily fish – rich in polyunsaturated fat Omega-3 which is a cholesterol lowering food.  For example: herring, mackerel, pilchards, sardines, salmon, trout and fresh tuna.  Aim to have 2 portions a week. 1 portion = 100g or 4 ounces.
  •  olive oil
  • rapeseed oil
  • avocado
  • nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts and pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds).
  • Some margarines and spreads which are made from monounsaturated fats.
  • corn oil,
  • sunflower oil
  • soya oil
  • soya protein(soya milk, soya yogurts, tofu, miso, and textured soya protein)
  • a high fibre diet, rich in ‘soluble’ and insoluble fibre.  Insoluble fibre, such as bran, helps the gut move its contents along and prevents constipation and haemorrhoids/hemorrhoids (click here for more on this).  They also make you feel fuller so that you’re less likely to snack on unhealthy foods.
  • soluble fibre is a cholesterol lowering food and includes foods such as oats, beans, pulses (lentils etc), nuts, fruit and vegetables.
  • fruit and vegetables that are fresh, frozen, canned or chilled all count as foods to help lower cholesterol

Cholesterol lowering foods – plant sterols and stanols.

Experts believe that ‘plant sterols’ and ‘stanols’ can be added to some foods like margarines, spreads, soft cheeses and yoghurts and may help lower cholesterol as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle – i.e. they don’t work on their own.

These sterols and stanols are found naturally in some plants such as vegetables, nuts and grains.  They are thought to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) absorption in the gut.  They don’t have any effect on the HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

The research that’s been done so far says that to make them a cholesterol lowering food you need to eat about 2g of  sterols and/or stanols per day and this can reduce the bad cholesterol levels by 10-15%.  The manufacturers label the foods where sterols and stanols have been added to tell you how to consume 2g each day.

These foods can be taken with cholesterol medications but you should talk to your doctor about it too.

They are not recommended for children under 5 years or for pregnant or nursing mothers.

High cholesterol foods.

It used to be thought that foods such as eggs, liver and kidneys, and some seafood (prawns for example) made cholesterol high.  However this is not modern thinking and the aim should be to reduce the amount of saturated fat in the diet in order to reduce cholesterol levels.

Other ways to reduce your cholesterol and stay healthy:

Cut down on salt. Don’t add salt to your food; instead use extra pepper, herbs, garlic or spices to add flavour to your food. There is a lot of salt in ready-meals so stick to fresh foods.

Drink alcohol in moderation.  Men should drink no more than 3-4 units each day and women no more than 2-3 units each day.

Keep to a healthy weight for your height.If you are not sure whether you are overweight, ask your doctor.

Take some regular physical activity, for at least 20-30 minutes each day.  This should be activity that gets you out of breath and raises your heart rate.

For example: brisk walking, cycling or dancing, can help improve your cholesterol level.  You can do the 30 minutes all in one go, or in shorter bursts of 10 minutes a time. Being active can increase HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and reduce blood pressure – click here to read more about reducing blood pressure.

For more on cholesterol medications click here.

Elspeth Raisbeck