Lowering cholesterol through dietary changes?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD, also known as coronary heart disease or stroke) can lead to angina, heart attacks and heart failure. It remains one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK but can be prevented by adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Things that can increase the risk of developing CVD – the ‘risk factors’ – include smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, high glucose levels in people with diabetes, too much salt in food and raised cholesterol (a fatty substance found in the blood).

Cholesterol builds up in the artery walls, limiting the flow of blood to other parts of the body, while increasing the risk of blood clots.

Higher cholesterol can also cause angina – a pain in the chest or arm, due to reduced blood flow to the heart, which can be a warning sign of the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

In England, anyone aged between 40 and 74 will be invited to have a free NHS Health Check every five years, aimed at detecting the early signs of a stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and dementia.

You can also take the NHS Health Check online How Healthy is Your Heart? test on the NHS Choices website.

A healthy diet

Fatty foods contain more cholesterol than healthier foods and your blood cholesterol level is an important indicator of the risk of developing heart disease. The good news is that high cholesterol can be lowered by often making simple changes to your diet and general lifestyle.

Good and bad fats

People who are advised to reduce their cholesterol will often need to lower their intake of saturated fats, found in fatty cuts of meat, processed meats such as sausages, lard, butter, full-fat milk and hard cheeses, cream, cakes and biscuits.

The average man in the UK should eat no more than 30mg of saturated fat per day, while for women it is 20mg.

Healthier unsaturated fats can be found in oily fish (mackerel, sardines, herring, salmon and trout), nuts and seeds, olive oil, vegetable oil and vegetable oil-based spreads.

Snack on unsalted nuts, seeds and dried fruits rather than pastries, which are high in saturated fats.

You can replace everyday foods that are high in saturated fat with the low fat alternatives e.g. milk, cream, cheese, vegetable-based spreads and margarine.

Better cooking options

One easy way to reduce the amount of fat in your diet is to change the way in which you cook your food.

Change from roasting and frying to healthier options such as boiling, steaming and poaching.

Cook with vegetable oils (sunflower or olive) instead of butter or coconut oil.

Self-help resources that can help to lower cholesterol include diet / nutritional plates, where food types and portion size are indicated by segments on the plate. These have been found to be helpful, as is advice from dieticians and doctors.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 22 May 2018

Next review: 22 May 2021