Preventing High Cholesterol

Key points

  • By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help keep your cholesterol in a healthy range.
  • Overweight and obesity raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol.
Older runners, one with a smartphone, tying shoelaces.

Make healthy eating choices

Your body makes all of the cholesterol it needs, so you do not need to obtain cholesterol through foods. Eating lots of foods high in saturated fat and trans fat may contribute to high cholesterol and related conditions, such as heart disease.

What you can do to help prevent cholesterol:

Limit foods high in saturated fat. Saturated fats come from animal products (such as cheese, fatty meats, and dairy desserts) and tropical oils (such as palm oil). Foods that are higher in saturated fat may be high in cholesterol.

Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium (salt), and added sugars. These foods include lean meats; seafood; fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt; whole grains; and fruits and vegetables.

Eat foods naturally high in fiber, such as oatmeal and beans (black, pinto, kidney, lima, and others), and unsaturated fats (found in avocados, vegetable oils like olive oil, and nuts). These foods may help prevent and manage high levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol levels.

Find healthy, seasonal recipes at the Million Hearts® healthy recipes page.

Prevention steps and strategies

Maintain a healthy weight

Overweight and obesity raise levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Excess body fat affects how your body uses cholesterol and slows down your body's ability to remove LDL cholesterol from your blood. The combination raises your risk of heart disease and stroke.

What you can do:

To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate your body mass index (BMI). If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC's Assessing Your Weight website. Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure excess body fat.

Talk with your doctor about what a healthy weight is for you. Work with your doctor on a food and fitness plan to help you reach or maintain a healthy weight.

Get regular physical activity

Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

What you can do:

Get active as a family. For adults, the Surgeon General recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or bicycling, every week. Children and adolescents should get 1 hour of physical activity every day.

Make physical activity a part of each day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park a little farther away, walk to the store, or do jumping jacks during commercials.

Quit smoking

Smoking damages your blood vessels, speeds up the hardening of the arteries, and greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease.

What you can do:

Limit alcohol

Too much alcohol can raise cholesterol levels and levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood.

What you can do:

Work with your health care team

You and your health care team can work together to prevent high cholesterol. Discuss your other medical conditions and any medicines you are taking, and bring a list of questions to your appointments. You can use this list of questions from the Million Hearts® The Scoop on Statins web page.