Why cholesterol matters?

A heart in a hand to represent how managing cholesterol keeps your heart healthy

Keep cholesterol in check and reduce your risk of heart disease and strokes. This article features handy hints and tips to help keep your cholesterol in check.

High cholesterol is when you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your blood. Cholesterol levels increase with age and for women going through the menopause.

Cholesterol is a condition which arises from having too much of a fatty substance (called a lipid) in the blood. High levels of cholesterol blocks arteries, this can cause heart disease as well as an increased risk of having a stroke. It also increases the risk of a blood clot developing somewhere in your body which can travel to your heart or brain.

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How do you know if you have cholesterol?

If you have high cholesterol, you won’t have any obvious symptoms but if you have a family history of heart problems, you’re overweight or over 40, it’s a good idea to get tested. If you're aged 40 to 74, you can get your cholesterol checked as part of an NHS Health Check.

How to lower your cholesterol

The good news is, there’s a number of ways to lower (or prevent) high levels of cholesterol.

The main causes are:

  • fatty food
  • lack of exercise
  • being overweight
  • smoking and drinking alcohol

It can also run in families.

What to ditch from your diet

If your GP has advised you to change your diet to reduce your cholesterol or if you’re keen to keep high levels of cholesterol at bay, start by steering clear of food high in saturated fats.

You’ll find this, typically in the following food:

  • meat pies
  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • bytter, ghee and lard
  • cream
  • hard cheeses
  • cakes and biscuts
  • food containing coconut or palm oil

TIP: Foods particularly high in cholesterol include the following:

  • kidneys
  • eggs
  • prawns

Change your cooking habits

Swap out the frying pan and instead:

Cholestrol infographic icons5 CookingMethods v 2

Eat more of the good stuff

Try to replace foods containing saturated fats with foods high in unsaturated fats, like the following (but bear in mind, large portions of any these foods can be quite high in calories so keep to small portion sizes).

  • oily fish – such as mackerel and salmon
  • nuts – such as almonds and cashews
  • seeds – such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • Avocados
  • Vegetable oils and spreads – such as rapeseed or vegetable oil, sunflower, olive, corn and walnut oils

Make fibre your friend

High fibre foods help to lower the risk of heart disease and can even help lower your cholesterol. Aim for 30g of fibre a day plus a colourful mix of at least five portions of fruit and veg. Here’s some high fibre heroes:

  • wholemeal bread and wholegrain cereals
  • fruit and vegetables
  • potatoes with their skins on
  • oats and barley
  • pulses, such as beans, peas and lentils
  • nuts and seeds

Try foods which can actively lower cholesterol

There are ranges of food in Co-op stores which can help lower cholesterol. Look out for products containing sterols and stanols – both of these are plant chemicals and block some cholesterol from being absorbed.

Up your exercise

Do anything you can to squeeze in some extra exercise every week. Ideally, 150 minutes (that’s two and half hours) spread over a week is recommended - but not just a gentle stroll! Try to increase your heart rate a little to maximise the positive effects of exercise. Why not take up running or cycle. Even walking more can make a differance.

Medication can help

If you’ve consulted your GP and been unable to lower your levels of cholesterol with a change or diet and an increase in exercise, they may prescribe medication. You can order your repeat prescriptions using Co-op Helth either online or via the mobile app.

Make healthy food choices, increase your exercise and you’re heart will thank you for it!

Sources: NHS guide to cholesterol