What causes high cholesterol?

Causes of high cholesterol

Although most people think that an unhealthy diet is one of the main causes of elevated cholesterol, those who eat relatively healthily can actually develop raised cholesterol too. The possible causes of cholesterol (or rather, elevated cholesterol) can in fact be separated into the things we can influence ourselves through small changes to our diet and lifestyle, and a few factors that are beyond our control.

So, what causes elevated cholesterol?

The elevated cholesterol causes that we may be able to do something about are:

  • A diet high in saturated fats and trans fatty acids;
  • An overall unhealthy diet, lacking in variety
  • Being overweight or obese.

Unalterable causes of cholesterol above the recommended levels are:

  • Age;
  • Gender;
  • Family history;
  • Ethnicity.

Diet and the causes of cholesterol

If you’ve had your cholesterol level tested, and have found that yours is above the recommended amount, it’s likely your doctor will suggest a few changes to your diet. For example:

  • You can start with replacing saturated fats (found in cheese, butter, fatty meats and many processed foods like cakes) in your diet with poly-unsaturated fats. These include nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and vegetable oils based soft spreads.
  • There are plenty of options to find delicious alternatives on our Fat Swaps Wheel if you need some inspiration.
  • Enjoying a balanced, varied diet in general will also help – try eating whole grains, nuts, seeds, whole grain cereals, and pulses, along with plenty of fruit and vegetables. If you struggle to stick to a diet, you might find it helpful to build up a repertoire of tempting and tasty healthy recipes to keep things interesting.
  • You could also try introducing foods that contain added plant sterols, as they are clinically proven to lower cholesterol:* A daily consumption of 1.5-2.4g plant sterol can lower cholesterol 7-10% in 2-3 weeks as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle with sufficient fruit and vegetables.

If you’d like to find out more, we have further information on this in our article on how to lower your cholesterol via your diet here.

* High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. As coronary heart disease has multiple risk factors, more than one may need to be improved to reduce overall risk of it.

Can stress elevate cholesterol?

Stress isn’t one of the direct causes of elevated cholesterol, but it can put additional physical strain on those with unhealthy diets and lifestyles. To keep your heart healthy, consider changing your diet and exercising more often, as this will help you deal with stress. It’s also important to get plenty of rest and sleep when you need to.

What is cholesterol?

Learn more about high cholesterol - and find out how it is linked to heart disease.

What are normal cholesterol levels?

What is the average cholesterol level in the UK and what are the figures you should be aiming for? Find out here

The Cholesterol Lowering Starter Kit

Download our free Cholesterol Starter Kit, including recipe ideas and healthy lifestyle tips, here and get started today! 


*Flora ProActiv contains plant sterols. Plant sterols have been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. Consuming 1.5-2.4g of plant sterols per day can lower cholesterol by 7-10% in 2-3 weeks when consumed as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle with sufficient fruit and vegetables.

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