Updated 19 June 2015

10 tips to lower your cholesterol

Healthy lifestyle changes can help reduce cholesterol and minimise your risk of developing heart disease. Here are 10 tips to get you started.


Yes, cholesterol can be bad for your heart. But the cholesterol issue isn't nearly this simple - your body actually needs some of it. If you're confused, read Health24's DietDoc's article on what it is, why you need it, and how food manufacturers mislead the public when they call a food product 'cholesterol free'. 

Healthy lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol:

Attain and maintain a healthy body weight
Do a simple calculation of your body mass index (BMI) at home: divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in meters) squared. A value between 18.5 and 24.9 indicates  that you have a healthy weight, where any value above 25 indicates that you are overweight.

Overweight people tend to have higher LDL (bad) and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels and thus are at increased risk. Obesity is indicated by a BMI of 30 or more.

Test yourself: Use our quick BMI calculator

Replace saturated fats
Replace saturated (unhealthy) fats in your diet with unsaturated (healthy) fats. For example, use soft tub margarine, olive, canola, avocado, grape seed and sunflower oil (amongst others) in food preparation or over salads instead of hard brick margarine/butter/ghee, cream  or coconut milk.

Note: all plant fats found in oils, margarine and foods produced with oil and margarine, and fatty plant foods such as avocado and nuts, don't contain any cholesterol.

Cut down on trans fats
Although trans fats are found naturally in small amounts in various animal products (e.g. beef, pork, lamb, milk, butter), they can also be formed in a manufacturing process that is widely used in the food industry to make margarine, shortening and commercial cooking oils. It is also found in baked goods (pastries, biscuits, cakes) and other processed foods in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Fortunately, in South Africa, products are now required by law to limit trans fats to an acceptable level of 2% or less, providing consumers with healthier choices.

Up your fibre intake
Ensure an adequate intake of fibre by eating at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Legumes (beans, peas and lentils) are high in fibre and a good source of protein – try to include it in your diet at least 3 times a week.

ReadHigher-fibre diet linked to lower death risk

Be physically active
Exercising regularly helps to increase your HDL (good) cholesterol.  The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. This can include brisk walking, jogging, swimming and cycling – aim to be breathless, not speechless.

Alcohol in moderation
Drink alcohol in moderation (if at all). Alcohol is not essential for health. Should you wish to consume alcohol, stay within the recommended limit of 1 unit per day for women, and up to 2 units per day for men (1 unit is equal to a small glass (120ml) of wine or 340ml beer/cider or 1 tot of spirits).

Remember not to accumulate! Watch your kilojoule (energy) intake by choosing dry or  ‘light’ alcohol options. Opt for red wine, which contains resveratrol and polyphenols (antioxidants) that may assist with raising HDL (good) cholesterol (when consumed in moderation).

Practise healthy cooking methods
Avoid frying foods – rather use dry-frying, roasting, baking, poaching, boiling, steaming, grilling and microwave cooking. Remove all visible fats from meats and the skin from chicken PRIOR to cooking – lean meats can also be roasted or grilled on a rack so that the extra fat can drip off.

Remember that meat dishes can be thickened by using legumes and/or vegetables in combination and cream in recipes can be substituted with low-fat evaporated milk and sour cream or low-fat yoghurt.

Read: How tomatoes can lower your cholesterol

Naturally fatty fish
Incorporate fish that is naturally fatty in your diet every week. For example, a 100g portion of pilchards/salmon/tuna/mackerel/sardines/trout/herring/snoek at least once a week. These are rich sources of the  healthy (polyunsaturated) fats called omega-3s, which may reduce triglyceride (bad fat) levels in the blood.

Try the plant sterol route
These naturally occur in small quantities in fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and vegetable oils. The recommended daily intake of plant sterols to assist in reducing cholesterol levels is 2g per day, an amount we typically do not consume in our regular diet.

ReadPlant sterols cut cholesterol

Read more:

Can natural Berberine lower cholesterol better than statins?  

Tim Noakes called a 'cholesterol denialist'

The truth about whether statins reduce your chance of dying from cancer


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