What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found naturally in the blood. Your body needs cholesterol to function properly but too much cholesterol can cause you problems. It’s mostly produced in the liver, but it’s also found in foods such as red meat, high-fat cheese, butter and eggs. If this sounds like bad news, then there’s some good news too. There are some simple steps you can take to reduce your cholesterol, and it starts with better understanding what cholesterol is and how you can reduce it – you’re in the right place!

Is all cholesterol 'bad'?

Your total cholesterol level includes LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol – and the balance between the levels of these two types of cholesterol is also important.

LDL (low density lipoprotein) is the ‘bad’ type of cholesterol. If there is too much LDL cholesterol in the blood, it can slowly build in the arteries, making them narrower which increases the risk of coronary heart diseases. You should aim to lower your levels of LDL by eating healthily and introducing Benecol® foods, with Plant Stanol Ester into your diet.
HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the ‘good’ type of cholesterol. It helps to remove excess cholesterol from the bloodstream and returns it to the liver where it is broken down and passed out of the body.

A quick tip to remeber the difference is that your LDL should be Lower and your HDL should be Higher.

What causes high cholesterol?

One of the most common causes of high cholesterol levels in the blood is eating too much saturated fat. Lack of regular exercise, being overweight, drinking a lot of alcohol and smoking can also raise cholesterol levels.

Luckily, these are all factors you can change to help lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease. There are some factors that increase your risk of having raised cholesterol levels that can’t be changed. These include having a family history of raised cholesterol or early cardiovascular disease, being over 40 years old and having a diagnosis of any condition that affects cholesterol levels. For example, around 1 in 250 people have high cholesterol levels caused by a genetic condition called Familial Hypercholesterolaemia. If any of the factors that can’t be changed apply to you, it’s even more important you focus on making changes to the factors above that you can control.

What about cholesterol found in food?
The cholesterol that naturally occurs in some foods – such as eggs, prawns, liver and kidney – 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 as part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Understanding your cholesterol number

It might seem a little daunting, but measuring your blood cholesterol is a great first step in becoming healthier.

This simple test – carried out by your doctor, nurse or pharmacist – will give you a cholesterol level. And if you know your level, you can do something about it.

Anyone can have their blood cholesterol level tested, but it’s particularly important for people that are over 40 years old, have high blood pressure, are overweight, or have a family history of coronary heart disease.
Adults aged between 40–74 years, living in England are eligible for a free NHS Health Check which includes a blood cholesterol check. If you have a history of heart disease in the family or you’re concerned you have high cholesterol, speak with your doctor who will be able to offer some advice.


Your cholesterol level is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L. The Government recommends that healthy adults should have a total cholesterol level below 5 mmol/L.

But your total cholesterol level includes LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol) – and the balance between the levels of these two types of cholesterol is also important.

The risk of heart disease is particularly high if you have a high level of LDL cholesterol and a low level of HDL cholesterol.

It is also important to remember that other factors such as smoking high blood pressure, and other fats are also risk factors for the development of coronary heart disease.

Reducing cholesterol

There are lots of different reasons for high cholesterol, but some of the most common causes – like eating too much saturated fat or not being active – are things you can do something about today. We’ve put together some handy tips to help lower cholesterol – just follow the link below.

Tips for reducing cholesterol

Lowering Cholesterol with the plant stanols in Benecol

You might already be doing some of the things that help reduce cholesterol, like exercise or healthy eating. Benecol®’s unique plant stanols can help your hard work go even further.

See more about plant stanols