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Home / High Cholesterol / 5 ways to lower cholesterol for a healthy heart

5 ways to lower cholesterol for a healthy heart

Decreasing the risk of cardiovascular problems and stroke

High cholesterol refers to having too much cholesterol in your blood. This is a fatty substance that can cause blockages in your blood vessels, putting you at risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Your diet and activity level mostly affect your cholesterol levels, although some people are more prone to getting it because of genetics.

If you’ve recently been told by your doctor that your cholesterol levels are too high, you can find ways of lowering them in this guide.

Why should I lower my cholesterol?

Although high cholesterol usually doesn’t present with symptoms, it can put you at risk of serious conditions such as coronary heart disease and stroke.

A blood vessel that contains a blockage of cholesterol.

When there is too much bad cholesterol in the bloodstream, it can block your blood vessels. This stops blood flowing to important organs like your heart and brain. Sometimes this causes irreversible damage.

It’s very important to lower your cholesterol levels if they are higher than they should be. When left untreated, high cholesterol can be fatal.

1. Change your diet

If you have high cholesterol levels, it’s crucial that you change the way that you eat. To lower the amount of cholesterol in your blood you should focus on reducing your intake of saturated fats.

There are two main types of fat that we eat:

  • saturated ‘bad’ fats
  • unsaturated ‘healthy’ fats
An infographic showing the difference between saturated fats and unsaturated fats.

Saturated fats are responsible for increasing the bad cholesterol in your blood which can eventually turn into blockages. Unsaturated fats help you to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

If you’re unsure about a certain fat source, see what state it’s in when at room temperature. Saturated fats (butter, lard, bacon fat) are solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats (olive oil, rapeseed oil) are liquid at room temperature.

Foods to avoid with high cholesterol

The following foods are high in saturated fats and should be limited or avoided:

  • processed or fatty meats
  • cheese
  • butter
  • lard
  • ghee
  • coconut oil
  • cream

Fortunately, it’s easy to replace these foods with unsaturated options. The following food swaps allow you to consume less bad fat without compromising on flavour:

  • instead of cooking in butter or ghee, cook using olive oil or vegetable oil
  • put avocado on your toast instead of butter or cheese
  • switch from full-fat milk to skimmed milk
  • opt for lower fat mince, such as 5% fat instead of 20%
  • eat more poultry and fish instead of fatty red meat (like bacon, sausages and mince)
  • replace crisps with unsalted nuts
  • cook at home instead of ordering takeaway
A selection of healthy, unsaturated fats including avocado, salmon, olive oil and nuts.

In addition to unsaturated vegetable oils, cholesterol-lowering foods consist of fruit, veg, and whole grains - all of which contain fibre.

Fibre is also useful for lowering cholesterol. When you eat foods that are high in fibre, you reduce the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed into the blood.

As well as eating your five a day, make sure to eat plenty of legumes and high-fibre options (like rye bread instead of white bread).

Are eggs high in cholesterol?

It is a common misconception that eggs are high in cholesterol and should be limited to remain part of a healthy diet.

While it is true that egg yolks contain cholesterol, eggs are low in saturated fat. They are a highly nutritious food and there isn’t any recommended limit on how many you should eat. In other words, eggs will not increase the bad cholesterol in your blood.

When eating eggs, pay attention to how you cook them. If frying or scrambling, stick to olive oil or vegetable oil instead of butter.

2. Exercise more

Exercise is a great tool for lowering your cholesterol and bettering your overall health. Increasing activity levels by doing exercise has the potential to:

  • decrease your ‘bad’ cholesterol, which is responsible for building up in your blood vessels
  • help you to lose weight and remain at a healthy body weight
  • help you lose visceral fat (fat around your middle) that lies close to your organs and increases your chances of developing severe health conditions

Exercising can also decrease your chances of developing type 2 diabetes and help lower your blood pressure.

Tips for increasing your activity levels

You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get a healthy amount of exercise. Small changes to your lifestyle can improve your activity levels and increase your heart rate throughout the day.

Consider adding any of the following into your daily routine:

  1. Walk more: If you take the train to work, don’t get the bus to the station. Or, consider parking your car further away from the office.
  2. Don’t put off chores: Simple household chores such as hoovering, dusting and scrubbing can be a great form of exercise and help you burn calories without trying to.
  3. Take the stairs: Instead of taking lifts or escalators, use the stairs. While this is a small change, in the long term it can make quite a difference.
  4. Go out for a jog or brisk walk: Exercise doesn’t have to involve pushing yourself to the max. Walking quickly (or even jogging) is enough to increase your heart rate and get your blood pumping.
  5. Try home workouts: If you can’t get out due to bad weather, follow an online workout from the comfort of your own home. There are thousands of options on platforms like YouTube and other social media channels.

3. Cut down on alcohol

If you are a heavy drinker or drink multiple times per week, your drinking habits may be contributing to your high cholesterol levels.

Your liver is responsible for flushing out bad cholesterol from the body. However, drinking large quantities of alcohol (especially long-term) is damaging to the liver and can prevent it from functioning properly.

A woman refusing another glass of red wine.

To ensure that you’re not drinking too much without realising, follow these tips:

  • make sure there are some days of the week when you don’t drink at all
  • opt for smaller glasses such as a half pint or small glass of wine
  • when you are out drinking, aim to drink half of what you normally would
  • don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week (equating to roughly six pints of beer or six medium glasses of wine)

4. Quit smoking

Smoking tobacco has been shown Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source to increase the bad (LDL) cholesterol in your blood. It also makes this type of cholesterol stickier, causing it to cling to the walls of the blood vessels and increase the likelihood of clots.

A man breaking a cigarette in half to indicate that he’s stopping smoking.

Smoking also decreases the amount of good (HDL) cholesterol in your blood. HDL cholesterol carries bad cholesterol to the liver, where it is then removed from the body.

If you’re a smoker with high cholesterol, it’s crucial to try and cut down or stop smoking entirely. Prevention is always better than cure - and by stopping smoking you’ll begin to reverse some of its other dangerous effects.

5. Take medication

Some people with high cholesterol have to resort to taking medication. This can be because:

  • lifestyle changes haven’t had a significant effect on cholesterol levels
  • a risk of stroke has become high

If your doctor decides to put you on medication for your high cholesterol, it’s likely that you’ll be on it for life.


The most common treatment for high cholesterol is a group of medicines called statins.

Statins work by slowing down the liver’s production of cholesterol. They come in the form of pills and the usual recommended dose is one pill per day.

There are several kinds of statin available on prescription, including:

  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol)
  • Pravastatin (Lipostat)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
  • Simvastatin (Zocor)

Other treatment options

If you don’t want to take statins, there are some other options for treating high cholesterol. There are both injection and tablet options available.

However, taking medication is not an excuse to avoid making lifestyle changes. If you are taking medicine for your condition, you should prioritise reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet.

Not doing so can worsen your chances of having a stroke or developing heart disease, which globally is the most common cause of death.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 12-04-2024
High Cholesterol

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Further reading

Recognising the symptoms of high cholesterol

Recognising the symptoms of high cholesterol

Reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana
Top 10 cholesterol-lowering foods

Top 10 cholesterol-lowering foods

Reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana
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