What causes high cholesterol?
The most common cause of high cholesterol in people in the UK is eating too much saturated fat.1 Being physically inactive, being overweight, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking can also affect cholesterol levels. These are factors which can be changed to help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
There are some factors affecting cholesterol levels that can't be changed, including a family history of raised cholesterol and increasing age (cholesterol levels increase with age). Also, about 1 in 500 people have high cholesterol levels caused by an inherited genetic condition called Familial Hypercholesterolaemia.2
What about the cholesterol found in food?
The cholesterol that naturally occurs in some foods such as eggs, prawns, liver and kidneys is known as ‘dietary cholesterol’. Dietary cholesterol usually has very little influence on blood cholesterol levels, so food like eggs and prawns can be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Eating too much saturated fat has a much bigger impact on blood cholesterol, so it’s important to lower your intake of this type of fat.
Tops tips for a healthier cholesterol level
The good news is by taking the simple steps to follow a healthier diet and lifestyle can help you lower your cholesterol. Also including Benecol® as part of your healthy diet is proven to lower cholesterol significantly more than healthy eating alone.
Follow a healthier diet:
- Introduce cholesterol lowering foods – Benecol® as part of a healthy diet is proven to lower cholesterol significantly more than healthy eating alone. Benecol® foods contain plant stanol ester which lowers LDL cholesterol by 7–10% within 2 to 3 weeks when 1.5–2.4g of plant stanols are consumed every day as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.3 Find out more here.
- Cut back on saturated fat – this type of fat is found in high fat dairy foods (such as cream, whole milk, hard cheese, butter), in fatty cuts of meat and in cakes, biscuits and pastries. It may also be ‘hidden’ in some convenience foods so it’s a good idea to check nutrition labels on food packaging to choose products that are lower in saturated fat. Women should aim to eat no more than 20g saturated fat per day and men no more than 30g.
- Replace saturated fat with unsaturated (‘good’) fat – unsaturated fat is better for your heart health and is found in oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, herring), nuts, seeds and vegetable oils (e.g. olive, rapeseed, sunflower)/spreads made from these. Nuts and seeds contain a lot of calories so try not to have too many if you are watching your weight.
- Eat more fruit, vegetables and fibre-rich foods - aim to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Eating foods that contain soluble fibre, such as oats, beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas, can also help to lower cholesterol. People with a healthy heart tend to eat more wholegrain foods; so, try choosing wholemeal/wholegrain/wholewheat varieties of bread, rice and pasta whenever possible.
- Eat more fish – eat at least two portions of fish per week, one of which should be the oily type, like salmon, mackerel, herring and trout. The type of fat found in oily fish (omega-3 fat) has been shown to protect the heart.
- Choose healthier cooking methods – like grilling, steaming, boiling and baking rather than frying, so that you use less fat.
Follow a healthier lifestyle:
- Be active and maintain a healthy weight – regular exercise can help to improve your ‘good’ HDL cholesterol level. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (e.g. brisk walking), 5 or more times a week. Remember, it’s always a good idea to contact a Health Care Professional before starting a new exercise regime.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation – no more than 2-3 units a day for women and no more than 3-4 units a day for men (1 unit of alcohol = one small glass of wine, half a pint of normal strength lager, cider or beer or 1 pub measure of spirits).
- Avoid smoking – alongside raised cholesterol, smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease.
Want more useful guides on lowering cholesterol?
Visit our Healthy Body section for more great nutrition and fitness advice to inspire you. Learn more
Who can I contact for more advice?
If you have a history of heart disease in the family or are concerned that you have high cholesterol, speak with your doctor who will be able to advise you.
If you have any general questions you can contact us
1. Henderson L, Gregory J, Irving K et al (2003). The National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Adults aged 19-64 years, volume 2: Energy, protein, carbohydrate, fat and alcohol intake. HMSO, London.
2. British Heart Foundation. HIS3 Reducing your blood cholesterol.
3. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Plant Stanol Esters and Blood Cholesterol The EFSA Journal 2008; 825: 2 - 2.