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Reducing your cholesterol

More information about all of the below is available on NHS Inform >>

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance which our bodies need in the right amounts to work. Our bodies get cholesterol from the foods we eat or by making it in our liver.

There are two main types of cholesterol:

            LDL (low density lipoprotein) is the bad cholesterol

            HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the good cholesterol

If you have too much of the ‘bad’ cholesterol it can be bad for your health. Cholesterol can build up in the blood vessels around your body, increasing your risk of serious health conditions such as a heart attack or stroke.  

Do I need medication for my high cholesterol?

If your cholesterol is over a certain level (which is individual to you and related to your other health conditions) your doctor might suggest taking a medication to reduce your cholesterol. But if you make some of the lifestyle changes suggested below you can improve your own cholesterol and hopefully avoid needing to take medication for your cholesterol in future. Making healthy lifestyle changes is one of the best things you can do to improve your future health.

What can I do to improve my cholesterol?


  • Reduce your intake of saturated fat (‘fatty foods’)
    • For example; pies, sausages, bacon, butter, lard, cream, cheese, coconut or palm oil in foods or for cooking
  • Instead swap these for foods which can increase your good cholesterol.
    • For example; oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna), avocados, nuts, seeds, cooking with oils such as sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil
  • Reduce your intake of ‘simple sugars’
    • For example cakes, biscuits, sugary or fizzy drinks, chocolate, ice cream, adding sugar to food
  • Instead swap to healthy snacks for example unsweetened yoghurt or fruit
  • Aim to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Swap full fat milk for semi-skimmer or skimmed
  • Swap butter for lower fat spreads
  • Swap white bread, pasta and rice for wholegrain options
  • Reduce or stop adding salt to food
  • If you eat meat choose lean meats (meat with low fat content), trim the fat off meat before cooking and remove the skin from chicken and turkey
  • Try to avoid processed foods (including microwave meals) and limit your number of takeaways, instead try to cook meals at home with fresh ingredients
  • Swap frying food for healthy cooking methods for example grilling, poaching or steaming

Movement & keeping active

Any extra movement you can do in your day will be good for your health. We recommend trying to do something active every day and over time try to gradually build up to doing 150 minutes of activity every week. This is the same as doing 30 minutes of activity on 5 days a week. This can include many different activities; for example, walking, cycling, swimming, or even heavy housework where your breathing is increased but you’re still able to talk. Alternatively, you could aim for 75 minutes per week of ‘vigorous’ exercise, for example running where your breathing is fast and you find it difficult to talk during the exercise.

If you don’t already do this level of activity, build up to it gradually, increasing the amount you do each week.

It’s also recommended that adults do strength and balance exercises twice a week to keep your muscles and bones strong.


If you smoke, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. Phone Quit Your Way Scotland on 0800 84 84 84 or chat with them online (type Quit Your Way Scotland into an online search engine to find the webpage) for free advice and support to stop or cut down on smoking. There’s also a local East Lothian Quit Your Way service who often run sessions in the Musselburgh Primary Care Centre.


If you drink alcohol, the recommended alcohol limit over a week is less than 14 units; spread over 3 or more days. This is equivalent to 6 pints of 4% beer, 6 medium sized glasses of wine or 7 double measures of spirits per week. If you drink above this level you risk causing damage to your health.

Tips to cut down include; having a smaller drink, try alcohol free drink options, swap strong beers or wines for lower strength options, drinking a soft drink between each alcoholic drink, and having several alcohol free days each week.

If you or people around you are concerned about your level of drinking, or think you may have a problem with alcohol and you are having difficulty cutting down, support is available.

You could contact the local support service called MELD based in Musselburgh on 07843 339 958.