How to lower cholesterol

Our bodies need cholesterol, but not too much. How do we know how much is too much? There are a number of factors to consider when approaching your cholesterol, such as your medical history, current health conditions and your lifestyle.

Before learning how to lower cholesterol, it’s helpful to know more about it.

Is cholesterol bad?

Cholesterol by itself is not a bad word. It’s a naturally occurring waxy substance that we all have and need. It’s produced by your body — mainly your liver — and circulated through your blood. There are a few types of cholesterol that are important to consider:


  • LDL — This is the “bad” cholesterol. It contributes to plaque deposits that thicken the arteries, making them less flexible. Foods that tend to cause high LDL include fatty cuts of meat, full fat dairy products like milk, cream, cheese and yogurt, processed foods, fast food and butter.
  • HDL — This is the “good” cholesterol. It removes LDL cholesterol from arteries and protects against heart attack and stroke. Foods that promote healthy cholesterol include olive oil, whole grains, nuts, beans and legumes.
  • Triglycerides — This is a type of fat that stores excess energy from your diet. It contributes to your total cholesterol number and can be elevated by obesity, physical inactivity, smoke and alcohol and carbohydrate-rich diets.
Your body produces all the cholesterol you need, but as you can see, cholesterol is also found in the foods you eat. When your diet is high in saturated and trans fats, this is added to the cholesterol that your liver is already making. This excess, over time, is what causes a greater risk of health concerns.

What is a normal cholesterol level?

As you may know, there are both good and bad types of cholesterol. Your body needs both, but too much of one (LDL) or not enough of the other (HDL) can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke. If you’re an adult age 20+, it’s recommended to have a cholesterol screening every four to six years.


There are usually no symptoms of high cholesterol, so these routine checks help you understand your current levels of each cholesterol type. This way, you can know what kinds of adjustments to make to keep your total cholesterol number as “normal” as possible. According to the American Heart Association, a total cholesterol score of less than 180 mg/dL is optimal.


If your cholesterol levels are high, be sure to follow all prescription and lifestyle recommendations from your doctor to help manage your levels.

Ways to lower cholesterol

There are a number of ways to lower cholesterol, mostly centered around making healthy lifestyle choices about your diet and exercise routine. While you should talk to your doctor about developing a more specific health plan for you, there are a few considerations that can get you started.

Understand your fats: what is safe to eat?

Fats are essential to a healthy diet. However, to keep your LDL numbers down, learn more about how to read labels and follow these daily guidelines:


  • Limit saturated fats to no more than 7 percent of your total calories
  • Get 25 – 35 percent of your total calories from fats in foods like fish, nuts and olive oils
  • Limit trans fats to less than 1 percent of your total daily calories
  • Consume fewer than 300 mg of cholesterol per day
  • Focus on eating monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as nuts, olive oil, avocados and fish

Stay active: does exercise lower cholesterol?

In order to be aware and proactive about your health, it’s best to start getting your cholesterol tested regularly, starting as early as the age of 20. In the meantime, here are some heart-healthy tips that’ll keep you ahead of the curve:


  • Get 40 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 4 times per week*
  • Enjoy a low-cholesterol diet with fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Limit consumption of red meat and sugary foods and drinks
  • Avoid tobacco smoke and limit alcohol consumption
  • Ask your doctor about drug therapies if you’re at a higher risk
*Please speak to your doctor before you begin an exercise program. If you don’t know where to turn, come see if CenterWell Senior Primary Care is right for you.

Stay informed: what are the pros saying?

New guidelines are changing the way doctors prescribe treatment for high cholesterol. The guidelines focus on cholesterol, lifestyle, obesity and risk assessment. Doctors then recommend treatment options based on an individual’s current health and risk of a heart attack or stroke. Talk to your doctor about the new treatment guidelines for high cholesterol.


Another effective way to manage medications is by using a mail-order pharmacy such as CenterWell Pharmacy. It’s easy to set up, order refills—plus you’ll receive your medications at your convenience and in your mailbox. 


To learn more about cholesterol go to or talk with your doctor during your next visit.


This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed professional. You should consult with an applicable licensed professional to determine what is right for you.

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