If you've been told you have high cholesterol, lowering it can help reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Making lifestyle changes will also help protect you. These include:
- Eating healthily
- Reaching or maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising more
A healthy diet and lifestyle can help control blood cholesterol levels, but if levels remain too high, doctors may recommend cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins.
Eating healthily as a high cholesterol treatment
Diet can have an effect on cholesterol:
- Fat. If you have a high blood cholesterol, it’s best to avoid a high fat diet, particularly one high in saturated fats, found in fatty meats and meat products such as sausages and pies, pastry dishes, and full-fat dairy products such as cream, full fat cream cheeses, ice cream and butter. But the message isn't as simple as “all fat is bad”. Healthier, unsaturated fats can improve your blood cholesterol. Unsaturated fats include olive and rapeseed oils, and corn, sunflower, and soya oils. Healthier fats are found in oily fish such as salmon and fresh tuna, and nuts such as walnuts and almonds. However since even good fats are high in calories, you should still eat them in moderation.
Soluble fibres are the types of fibre found in peas, beans, lentils, oats and oat products like porridge. They have a cholesterol-lowering effect and can also help to regulate blood sugar levels after a meal. To lower cholesterol they work in the same way as stanol and sterol esters.
- Calories. The importance of counting your calories is often overlooked. Eating too many calories can lead to weight gain, increasing your risk of high cholesterol.
- High cholesterol foods. We used to think that cholesterol in our food would raise blood cholesterol levels, and traditionally people were advised to avoid foods loaded with cholesterol such as egg yolks and prawns. We now know that not to be true. It's much more important to minimise foods that are high in saturated fat, which is converted to cholesterol in the body. So enjoy prawns as part of a heart healthy diet - as long as they’re not smothered in mayonnaise.
So what diet works best as treatment for high blood cholesterol? The Mediterranean-style diet, one rich in fruits and vegetables, wholegrains and healthier fats is by far the best blueprint for controlling blood cholesterol levels.
However, if you have an inherited form of high cholesterol you will need to take medication to help control cholesterol levels.
Weight loss and exercise as a high cholesterol treatment
Being overweight or obese increases blood levels of LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and also triglycerides levels and lowers HDL (high density lipoprotein - good cholesterol) levels. It can also lead to other serious risks such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. So it's crucial to maintain a healthy weight.
As a high cholesterol treatment, physical activity can have a small but significant effect. Exercise can lower your triglycerides (and bad LDL cholesterol to a lesser extent) and boost your protective good HDL cholesterol. So you should aim to get some physical activity, even just a brisk walk, for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.