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Your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to work properly, but not too much. If there is too much cholesterol in your blood it can build up on the sides of your arteries, narrowing them and increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
The type of fat that you eat is important as some types of fats are more likely to raise your cholesterol levels while other types of fat will help to lower it.
Saturated fat and cholesterol
Your body uses saturated fat to make cholesterol therefore eating too much saturated fat will raise your cholesterol. Too much cholesterol can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke, so if you have high blood pressure it is very important to keep your cholesterol levels low.
Saturated fat is usually found in animal products for example red meats, pork, butter, ghee and cheese. It’s also found in many baked goods such as pastries, cakes and biscuits and in the plant-based oils coconut oil and palm oil.
When shopping, try to avoid foods high in saturated fat – those that have a red traffic light.
A diet that is rich in unsaturated fats can help lower the levels of unwanted cholesterol even further.
Polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil. These fats don’t raise your cholesterol levels but can still make you gain weight if you eat too much of them.
TIP: When cooking use rapeseed oil or sunflower oil in place of olive oil as it shouldn’t be heated to very high temperatures.
Is all cholesterol bad?
Not all cholesterol in the blood is bad. Cholesterol is carried by the blood in two main forms: LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein).
LDL is the main carrier of harmful cholesterol to your arteries – where it can build up and cause narrowing.
HDL picks up excess cholesterol in the arteries and takes it away.
So the ideal situation is to have a low LDL level and a high HDL level.
Eat your way to lower cholesterol
One of the best ways to keep your cholesterol levels in check is to enjoy a balanced diet. This means eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, with starchy wholegrain foods and low levels of saturated fat.
Try to eat fish at least 2-3 times a week. White fish is low in fat and high in vitamins and minerals. Oily fish is rich in Omega-3 essential fatty acids which may help reduce blood pressure, reduce the tendency of blood to clot, regulate the rhythm of your heart beat and reduce triglyceride levels.
Always choose lean meats, poultry (without the skin), and lower-fat dairy foods instead of the fatty meats and full-fat dairy products. When cooking, remove any visible fat from meat and skim off the fat from sauces, gravy and casseroles.
Avoid saturated fats found in butter, ghee, lard, full-fat dairy foods and animal products. Replace them with products high in monounsaturated fat such as rapeseed and olive oil, or high in polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower and corn oil.
Oats, beans, nuts and soya are also good choices.
Simple cooking methods to keep foods low in fat
Some of the unwanted fat that we eat comes from the cooking oils we use when frying. Because of this, it is best to use other methods of cooking that don’t need cooking oil:
- Instead of frying foods, steam, boil, poach, grill, bake, microwave, barbecue or stir-fry them.
- Use only a small amount of oil when cooking and choose brands high in polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat. Alternatively, try cooking in wine, water or tomato juice.
- Measure oil using a teaspoon or tablespoon rather than just pouring it into the saucepan or use an oil spray. Trim meat of all visible fat and remove skin from poultry before cooking.
The way we cook can also help to reduce fat:
- By preparing curries and stews in advance and chilling them overnight, unwanted fat becomes solid and can be removed.
- When grilling or roasting meat, use a trivet which allows the fat to drain off.
And finally, we can replace fatty ingredients with healthier alternatives for example substitute low-fat yoghurt or low-fat fromage frais in recipes that call for cream.