Preventing high cholesterol

You can help to lower your cholesterol by eating a healthy, balanced diet that is low in saturated fat, doing regular exercise, stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol.


Eating an unhealthy diet that is high in fat will cause fatty plaques to build up in your arteries. This is because fatty foods contain cholesterol.

There are also two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Avoid foods that contain saturated fats because they will increase the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood. Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • meat pies
  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • butter
  • ghee (a type of butter often used in Indian cooking)
  • lard
  • cream
  • hard cheese
  • cakes and biscuits
  • food that contains coconut or palm oil

Eating a small amount of unsaturated fat will increase the level of good cholesterol and help reduce any blockage in your arteries. Foods that are high in unsaturated fat include:

  • oily fish (mackerel, salmon, tuna)
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil

Eating a low-fat diet that includes lots of fibre, such as wholegrain rice, bread and pasta, and plenty of fruit and vegetables, has also been proven 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. Find out more about getting your 5 A Day and healthy eating.


A chemical found in cigarettes called acrolein stops “good cholesterol” (HDL) from transporting the “bad cholesterol” (LDL) to the liver, leading to high cholesterol and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). This means that smoking is a major risk factor for both heart attacks and strokes.

If you decide to stop smoking, your GP will be able to 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 Smoking Helpline on 0800 022 4332 (7am to 11pm). The specially trained helpline staff will be able to offer you free expert advice and encouragement.

If you are 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 that you may experience after giving up.

For more information about giving up smoking, see treatment for quitting smoking and stop smoking.


Being active and taking regular exercise will help to increase the levels of “good cholesterol” (HDL) in your body by stimulating the body to move the “bad cholesterol” (LDL) to the liver so that it can be broken down.

It will also help to lower your blood pressure by keeping your heart and blood vessels in good condition and helping you to lose weight. Being overweight can increase the amount of “bad cholesterol” (LDL) in your blood.

Doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week is recommended to help lower your cholesterol. Find out more about getting more active and achieving your recommended activity levels.

Walking, swimming and cycling are all good examples of this kind of exercise. Find out more about walking for healthswimming for fitness and the benefits of cycling.

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