Cholesterol, it’s not really about diet


There’s many factors involved in keeping a healthy cholesterol level. Risk factors come from food, lifestyle choices and genetics, but what proportion is hereditary?

Few people have familial hypercholesterolemia which can be inherited and it can’t be controlled with diet and lifestyle alone.

The most common test for cholesterol is Total cholesterol. If your doctor tells you your cholesterol is high they either mean your total cholesterol is too high or your LDL (bad cholesterol) is too high.

The bad guys

LDL (low density lipoproteins) is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. It transports cholesterol from your liver around your body.

The good guys

HDL (high density lipoproteins) are known as the “good” cholesterol, it returns cholesterol from your body to your liver.

Risk factors

Being obese or having a large waist circumference, high blood glucose levels, smoking, being sedentary or dietary choice (excess of red meat, full fat foods, fried or ultra-processed foods) all count.

Do we need cholesterol?

Yes. It’s involved in creation of vitamin D, bile acids and hormones.

Why measure cholesterol?

High cholesterol could be an indication you are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Lowering cholesterol

A combination of dietary and lifestyle factors:

  • Increased plant sources – start with just one more vegetable per day
  • Each day include rolled oats (which are high in beta-glucans)
  • Choose wholegrain rather than white bread / pasta / rice
  • Reduce red meat to less than twice per week
  • Moderate butter, full fat dairy, cheese
  • Consider reducing portion size to help maintain healthy weight
  • Limit alcohol and smoking
  • Keep active with short frequent activities like a brisk walk


Some of the latest research suggests the body can regulate cholesterol, or more specifically blood cholesterol. This is quite a turnaround from a generation ago when unfortunately people with high cholesterol were advised to reduce their dietary cholesterol (choose low fat foods) and eat more highly processed carbohydrates which may actually have not been so helpful.

Dietary cholesterol only has a small impact in our blood cholesterol. When eating higher cholesterol foods, our body changes the amount of cholesterol it produces. How amazing is the human body?

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