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Food and choloestrol
Eating a healthy diet and being physically active can help to lower cholesterol levels in the blood. A healthy lifestyle can also help stop our cholesterol levels becoming high in the first place.
This is important because having high cholesterol levels increases the chances of developing heart disease. If you're concerned about your cholesterol, talk to your GP.
Foods containing cholesterol
Some foods contain cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is called dietary cholesterol. Liver, kidneys, eggs and prawns are higher in dietary cholesterol than other foods.
But the cholesterol we get from our food has much less effect on the level of cholesterol in our blood than the amount of saturated fat we eat.
However, liver is also a rich source of vitamin A, which can be harmful in high amounts.
So women who are pregnant should avoid eating liver, and older people at risk of bone fracture should avoid eating liver or liver products more than once a week. People who eat liver every week might want to choose not to have it more often because the body stores vitamin A and levels can build up over many years.
If you are eating a balanced diet, you don’t need to cut down on kidneys, eggs and prawns unless your GP or dietitian has advised you to do this.
If your GP has advised you to change your diet to reduce your blood cholesterol, the most important thing to do is to cut down on saturated fat. It’s also a good idea to increase the amount of fruit, vegetables and fibre you eat.
Fats and cholesterol
There are two main types of fat – saturated and unsaturated. Eating foods that are high in saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
- meat pies
- sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- hard cheese
- cakes and biscuits
- foods containing coconut or palm oil
But unsaturated fat can actually reduce cholesterol levels. So try to replace foods containing saturated fats with foods that are high in unsaturated fats, including:
- oily fish
- nuts and seeds
- sunflower, olive, corn, walnut and rapeseed oils and spreads
- vegetable oils
Like saturated fats, trans fats can raise cholesterol levels. Trans fats may be found in foods that contain hydrogenated fats, including some types of biscuits, cakes, fast food, pastry, margarine and spreads.
So, as part of a healthy diet, we should try to cut down on foods containing hydrogenated or saturated fats and replace them with unsaturated fats.
And don’t forget that we should also reduce the total amount of fat we eat. So try microwaving, steaming, poaching, boiling or grilling, instead of roasting or frying; choose lean cuts of meat and go for low-fat varieties of dairy products and spreads (or eat just a small amount of full-fat varieties).
Fibre and cholesterol
Eating a diet that contains plenty of soluble fibre could also help to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood. Good sources of soluble fibre include oats, beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, fruit and vegetables.
So, try to include more of these foods in your diet. Don’t forget that we should all aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg each day.
Products designed to lower cholesterol
There is evidence that foods containing certain added ingredients, such as plant sterols and stanols, can reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood.
Sterols and stanols can be found in specially developed products, such as some spreads and yoghurts. These foods are aimed at people who need to lower their cholesterol levels. People who don’t have high cholesterol shouldn’t eat these products regularly, particularly children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
If your doctor has told you that you have high cholesterol, you can help to lower it by changing your diet, without eating special products.
If you do eat foods that are designed to lower cholesterol, read the label carefully to avoid eating too much.