You can lower your cholesterol by eating a healthy, balanced diet that's low in saturated fat, exercising regularly, not smoking and cutting down on alcohol.
If you have an unhealthy diet that's high in fat, fatty plaques are much more likely to build up in your arteries. This is because fatty foods contain cholesterol.
There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. You should avoid foods containing saturated fats, as they will increase the levels of "bad cholesterol" (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) in your blood.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
- meat pies
- sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- ghee – a type of butter often used in Indian cooking
- hard cheese
- cakes and biscuits
- food that contains coconut or palm oil
However, it's not healthy to completely cut out all types of fat from your diet. It's important to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats – they've been shown to increase levels of "good cholesterol" (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) and reduce any blockage in your arteries.
Foods that are high in unsaturated fat include:
- oily fish – such as mackerel, salmon and tuna
- nuts and seeds
- sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil
Read the facts about fat and how to eat less saturated fat for more information.
A low-fat diet including lots of fibre, such as wholegrain rice, bread and pasta, and plenty of fruit and vegetables has also been shown to help lower cholesterol.
Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre, and help keep your body in good condition. Aim to eat five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
Read more about healthy eating.
A chemical found in cigarettes called acrolein stops HDL transporting fatty deposits to the liver, leading to high cholesterol and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). This means smoking is a major risk factor for both heart attacks and strokes.
If you decide to stop smoking, your GP can refer you to an NHS Stop Smoking Service, which will provide you with dedicated help and advice about the best ways to give up smoking.
You can also call the NHS Stop Smoking Helpline on 0300 123 1044 (England only). The specially trained helpline staff can offer you free expert advice and encouragement.
If you're committed to giving up smoking but don't want to be referred to a stop smoking service, your GP should be able to prescribe medical treatment to help with any withdrawal symptoms you may experience after giving up.
Read more about treatment for quitting smoking.
Being active and exercising regularly will increase the levels of HDL in your body by stimulating the body to move fatty deposits to the liver, so they can be broken down.
Exercise will also help you maintain a healthy weight, and lose weight if you're overweight. Being overweight can increase the amount of "bad cholesterol" in your blood.
Another benefit of regular physical activity is it will help lower your blood pressure by keeping your heart and blood vessels in good condition.
Doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week is recommended to help lower your cholesterol. Walking, swimming and cycling are good examples of this type of exercise.
Read more about the recommended physical activity guidelines for adults (aged 19-64) and the physical activity guidelines for older adults (aged 65 and over).