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Lowering your blood cholesterol levels by modifying your lifestyle and eating habits will dramatically reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease — including having a fatal or disabling heart attack or stroke

The facts

Approximately half of adult Australians have a total blood cholesterol level higher than what is recommended safe! This makes high blood cholesterol a major health concern in Australia.

Cholesterol and triglycerides

Cholesterol and triglycerides are separate types of 'lipids' (a building block of cells in the body) that circulate in your blood.

Cholesterol is produced naturally by the liver and is used to build and maintain cells.

Triglycerides store unused calories and provide your body with energy.

There are two main types of cholesterol

LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is called the 'bad' cholesterol because:

  • It can help form plaques and contribute to atherosclerosis.
  • Higher levels reflect an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is called the 'good' cholesterol because:

  • It helps to remove excess cholesterol from plaques and thus slow plaque growth.
  • Lower levels reflect a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Why are lipids important to manage?

- brochure CD - arteryCholesterol

The liver returns the cholesterol it cannot use to our bloodstream. An excess of cholesterol in our bloodstream can cause fatty deposits ('plaques') to form in our arteries. This is a process that occurs over time called atherosclerosis. These deposits cause the arteries to narrow and can eventually block them completely, leading to a heart attack or stroke.


Any excess calories from foods that are not needed for quick energy are turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells to be used later. Eating more calories than you burn could result in high triglycerides.

Why are high lipid levels bad?

High levels of cholesterol and triglycerides alone, and in combination with other risk factors, increases your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. By eating fewer calories, reducing saturated fats in your diet and regular physical activity, high lipid levels can be lowered.

Modifying your lipid levels is therefore good for the prevention of:

  • Coronary artery disease (including a heart attack).
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral artery disease

Cholesterol and your diet

fried foodThere is no need to eat foods high in cholesterol; your body can produce all the cholesterol it needs!

The “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) in your body is raised by the amount of saturated fat in your diet. To control your LDL cholesterol it is important to limit saturated fat intake and foods high in cholesterol, including eggs and seafoods such as prawns.

Managing lipid levels

You may be able to manage your lipid levels by having a healthy diet and active lifestyle plan. Try to avoid regularly eating more calories then you burn to lower your triglyceride levels.

If diet and lifestyle changes are not enough to modify your cholesterol and triglyceride levels or if you have inherited genes that cause unhealthy lipid levels, you may need medicines. Medicines called statins are commonly used to lower LDL cholesterol. Even if you are taking medicines, a healthy diet and lifestyle plan is important to your health! Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist who treats cardiovascular disease.

Generally, man have higher blood cholesterol levels than women before menopause, but levels are higher then men after menopause.

Foods to improve lipid levels

Food group To be preferred To be limited

Vegetables and legumes/beans

All different types and colours; raw, steamed or boiled

Fried or prepared with butter, cream or cheese sauce


All fresh or frozen; especially apples, berries and citrus fruits

Fried or dried (with added sugar)

Grain foods

Wholegrains; nuts and seeds (in moderation)

Refined bread, rice or pasta

Meats and poultry

Lean meat (with visible fat removed) and skinless poultry

Higher-fat cuts and processed meats (e.g. sausages and salami)

Dairy foods

Skimmed or reduced fat milk, yoghurt, cream and cheese

Regular cheese and cream, whole milk and yoghurt


Fresh and oily (e.g. mackerel, salmon, sardines)

Fried or prepared in batter

Fats and oils

Polyunsaturated or monounsaturated

Butter, trans fats, palm or coconut oil


Red wine (if you choose to drink alcohol)

Consult a dietitian or nutritionist for an individualised eating plan.

For a healthy lifestyle plan try to:

  • Do regular physical exercise (30 minutes per day of brisk walking), sit less, lose excess body fat for a healthy body weight, reduce your alcohol intake, quit smoking and minimise physical and emotional stress by relaxing and thinking positively.
  • If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar levels.

Goal levels of cholesterol and triglycerides

For people with no CVD, diabetes or kidney disease (mmol/L) For people with established CVD, diabetes or kidney disease (mmol/L)

Total Cholesterol

Below 4.5

Below 4.0†

LDL Cholesterol

Below 2.5†

Below 1.8*

HDL Cholesterol

Above 1.0†

Above 1.0*

Triglycerides (fasting)

Below 2.0

Below 2.0*

CVD = Cardiovascular disease

† Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (2009) manual.
* National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand. Reducing risk in heart disease: an expert guide to clinical practice for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Melbourne: National Heart Foundation of Australia, 2012.

Download this fact sheet

The contents of this fact sheet were last updated in 2013


While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this material, the information is provided on the basis that persons undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. In particular, readers should seek independent professional medical advice from their general practitioner or specialist in relation to their own individual circumstance or condition before making any decisions based on this information. The material also includes summarised guidelines or recommendations based on information provided by third parties. The Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute disclaims to the extent permitted by law, all liability including negligence for claims of losses, expenses, damages and costs that the reader may incur (or suffer) from acting on or refraining from action as a result of all information in these materials.

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