Avoid saturated fats

Food that is high in saturated fat can raise your cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of clogged arteries, which can in turn lead to heart attacks. Some simple dietary changes can help. If you’re a meat eater, avoid the processed variety, and don’t have too much red meat like beef, pork or lamb. Chicken and turkey – with the skin off, of course – are much healthier.

Get more soluble fiber

High-fiber foods are extremely beneficial to not only your digestive system, but also the health of your heart, as soluble fiber can actually soak up the cholesterol in your system and keep it from clogging you up inside. Try whole grain bread in place of white, oatmeal, and pulses like beans, lentils and chickpeas, preferably the fresh whole foods variety.

Opt for low-fat dairy products

While not all fats are inherently bad, taking the lower fat option wherever possibly is one of the easiest ways to help bring your cholesterol levels down. Cutting out dairy completely can be a big help, or alternatively choose the lower fat options of milk, cheese, yogurt and cream.

Be sure to exercise

This one should be a bit of a no-brainer, but if you want to keep your cholesterol down, you need to stay active. This doesn’t necessarily mean turning into a full-time gym fanatic, but try to get at least two and a half hours of gentle exercise weekly (ie 30 minutes a day, five days a week). Working out is great, but walking will suffice.

Avoid trans fats

Any time the label lists ‘hydrogenated oil,’ they’re talking about trans fats, which is one of the worst things around for boosting your cholesterol. Foods that are heavy in trans fats include mass-produced baked goods, fried junk food, pizza, margarine and even microwave popcorn. Best to keep your consumption of such items to a minimum, or even cut them out completely.

Watch your weight

Hand-in-hand with taking regular exercise and reducing your fat intake is maintaining a healthy bodyweight. If you’re overweight, it’s more likely your cholesterol will be a very real concern. You don’t need to get super-skinny, but if you are carrying a little too much weight, it’s worth talking to your doctor about finding a sensible diet and exercise plan to trim down a little.

Eat less meat and more fish

A diet that’s heavy in red meat is likely to lead to dangerously high cholesterol levels. The carnivores among us might want to consider eating more fish instead, as this is low in saturated fats and high in heart-healthy omega-3 oils. However, as with meat, remember to go for fish that’s fresh, not the processed, frozen kind.

Try snacking on nuts

So many of the most popular snack foods are loaded with saturated and trans fats, which increase our cholesterol. By contrast, avocados, olives and nuts (preferably those that haven’t been roasted or salted) contain beneficial unsaturated fats and fiber. Just remember to snack on these in moderation, as nuts also have a high calorie count.

Give up smoking

Another thing that should probably go without saying by now is that smoking carries many severe health risks. Quite apart from causing cancer and respiratory diseases, tobacco smoke (including secondary inhalation) leads to an increase in your unhealthy low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, and clogs your arteries. Talk to your doctor and they can help with plans to break the habit.

Take time to unwind

It is well established that high cholesterol and stress tend to go hand-in-hand. As simplistic as it may seem, one vital step in lowering your cholesterol levels is making sure you find enough time in your day-to-day life for rest and relaxation. Don’t work around the clock, get a full night’s sleep, and be sure to unplug and unwind now and then.