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The Fat Chance

Fact Sheet: Cholesterol


Where does it come from?
Most of the cholesterol in our bodies is produced in the liver and the surrounding tissues, with a small amount coming from the food we eat. Cholesterol is primarily produced by animal tissue.

What foods are high in cholesterol?
Offal meats such as kidneys, liver and brains, egg yolks, butter and cream all have high levels of cholesterol. Meat, chicken, fish, whole milk and cheese are regarded as having moderate levels of cholesterol.

Why worry about cholesterol?
Some cholesterol circulating in the blood is important for good health. However when there are high levels of cholesterol in the blood it is deposited in the walls of arteries, causing narrowing and hardening of the artery walls, increasing the risk of heart disease.

How do I find out if I have high cholesterol?
Your family doctor can arrange for a blood test to check the level of cholesterol in your blood, as well as other factors that affect your risk of heart disease.

Are there different types of cholesterol?
Lipoprotein molecules in the blood carry cholesterol of which there are two kinds:

-HDL or high density lipoprotein is called good cholesterol as it removes cholesterol from artery walls, which helps protect against heart disease.

-LDL or low density lipoprotein is known as bad cholesterol as it deposits cholesterol in cells, which promotes heart disease.

How do different fats affect cholesterol?
Eating less fat is a recognised way of lowering the level of cholesterol in the blood. There are 3 main types of fat found in the foods we eat:

-Saturated fats are found in animal products such as meat, butter, cream, cheese, dripping and lard. Coconut and palm oil - two vegetable oils that are also high in saturated fat. Saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol in our bodies and helps to lower the level of HDL or good cholesterol in our bodies.

-Polyunsaturated fats occur in the oil found in seed and grains such as sunflower, safflower, corn, soybeans and nuts. Polyunsaturated fats help decrease LDL or bad cholesterol, but may also reduce the level of HDL or good cholesterol.

-Monounsaturated fats are found in both animal and plant products. Olive and canola oils are rich sources of monounsaturated fats. Other sources are avocados and peanuts. Monounsaturated fats help decrease LDL cholesterol and may help increase HDL cholesterol.

How does my diet affect cholesterol?
-Reducing the total amount of fat in your diet especially saturated fat and using small amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats helps lower cholesterol levels.

-Eat generous amounts of fruit, vegetables, whole grain bread, cereals and legumes such as dried beans, peas and lentils. The fibre found in legumes, oats, fruit and vegetables help to lower blood cholesterol levels.

-Fruit and vegetables contain high levels of vitamins, which also help protect against high blood cholesterol levels.

-Maintain a healthy body weight

-Limit salt, sugar and alcohol in your diet.

-Maintain an exercise routine, as it helps raise HDL or good cholesterol levels.

-Reduce Stress.

What can I do if I have high cholesterol?
-Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables (including frozen vegetables) and whole grain foods
-Have at least two servings of low-fat milk a day
-Eat fish at least twice a week.
-Reduce or exclude dairy, meat and hardened vegetable fats when cooking
-Limit red meat portions to approximately 120g of uncooked meat per day
-If replacing red meat with hard cheese, remember that 30g of cheese equates to 120g of lean red meat
-Avoid processed foods, snacks and meals unless the fat and salt content is known
-Reduce the number of eggs you eat each week to two or three
-Stop smoking
-Maintain an exercise routine, as exercise helps to raise HDL or good cholesterol levels

If changes to your diet and exercise routines are not effective in adequately lowering cholesterol levels after three to six months, your doctor may prescribe medication.

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Some handy hints -

Set realistic goals and introduce change slowly to your diet and exercise routines. This allows time for your body and taste buds to adapt and you will be more likely to continue with the changes rather than revert to our old bad habits.

Keeping a food diary is a great way to become aware of your habits and highlight areas that require change.

Change cooking methods to avoid using fat. Steam, microwave, poach, grill or bake food rather than fry or roast. Use non-stick spray oils on cookware rather than pouring oil into a pan. Use only enough oil to coat cooking pans to stop food sticking, rather than having it sit in a pool of oil.

Remove the skin from poultry and trim the fat off meat before cooking.

Replace read meat with more fish and chicken

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may be used sparingly in place of saturated fats. For example dip bread in olive oil or use an olive oil spread rather than butter.

Limit your use of vegetable products such as coconut cream that are high in saturated fat

Replace oily dressings and mayonnaise with lemon juice, vinegar or pre made-low fat dressings

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