Prevention - High cholesterol

You can lower your cholesterol by:

  • eating a healthy, balanced diet that's low in saturated fat
  • exercising regularly
  • not smoking
  • cutting down on alcohol

Diet

If your diet is high in fat, fatty plaques are much more likely to build up in your arteries. This is because fatty foods contain cholesterol.

There are 2 types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Avoid foods containing saturated fats. They will increase the levels of "bad cholesterol"  in your blood.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • butter
  • lard
  • cream
  • hard cheese
  • cakes and biscuits
  • food that contains coconut or palm oil

It's not healthy to completely cut out all types of fat from your diet. It's important to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats. They increase levels of "good cholesterol"  and reduce any blockage in your arteries.

Foods that are high in unsaturated fat include:

  • oily fish – such as mackerel, salmon and tuna
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil

A low-fat diet including lots of fibre and plenty of fruit and vegetables has also been shown to help lower cholesterol.

Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre. They help keep your body in good condition. Aim to eat five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Read more about how to eat well

Smoking

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is known as the "good" cholesterol because it helps remove other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream.

A chemical found in cigarettes stops HDL transporting fatty deposits to the liver. This leads to high cholesterol and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). This means smoking is a major risk factor for both heart attacks and strokes.

If you decide to stop smoking, your GP can refer you to the HSE's free stop smoking service. This will provide you with dedicated help and advice about the best ways to give up smoking.

Get support with giving up smoking

Exercise

Being active and exercising regularly will increase the levels of HDL in your body. Exercise stimulates the body to move fatty deposits to the liver, so they can be broken down.

Exercise will also help you maintain a healthy weight, and lose weight if you're overweight. Being overweight can increase the amount of "bad cholesterol" in your blood.

Physical activity will help lower your blood pressure by keeping your heart and blood vessels in good condition.

Doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week is recommended to help lower your cholesterol. Walking, swimming and cycling are good examples of this type of exercise.

Read more about how to improve your fitness

Cut down on alcohol

Try to:

  • avoid drinking more than the recommended weekly units - 11 standard drinks for women and 17 standard drinks for men
  • have several drink-free days each week
  • avoid drinking lots of alcohol in a short time (binge drinking)

Ask your GP for help and advice if you're struggling to cut down.

Read more about alcohol's effect on the body


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 24 March 2021
Next review due: 24 March 2024

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