Everyone needs a basic amount of cholesterola waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body to function. But if your cholesterol is at an unhealthy level, it could mean you have an increased risk of developing heart disease.

What can you do to keep your cholesterol at or reduce it to healthy levels? Try these nine tips:

  • Eat a hearty bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Experts praise this fiber-rich dish as a cholesterol-lowering powerhouse.
  • Switch from red meat to chicken or fish, which tend to be lower in fat than beef, for at least a few meals each week. Some fish, including salmon and mackerel, are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower triglycerides, one of the components of cholesterol.

  • Eliminate or greatly reduce saturated fats. Tasty alternatives to high-fat items, such as low-fat or fat-free milk, reduced-fat cheese, and lean cuts of meat, are readily available.

  • A couch-potato lifestyle is not heart-healthy, so try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, four days a week. Aim to do some light exercise, such as walking or gardening, every day. Studies have shown that exercise may increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as good cholesterol.

  • Try olive oil or canola oil in cooking, instead of butter, trans fat margarine, and polyunsaturated oil.

  • Look for products specifically created for low-cholesterol diets, which include margarines and fruit juices. These foods have been fortified with plant stanols and sterols that help to block the absorption of cholesterol.

  • Use cholesterol-free egg substitutes instead of whole eggs, which are notoriously rich in cholesterol.

  • Check nutrition labels to ensure that foods are low in saturated and trans fats, and high in desirable components such as fiber and nutrients.

  • Stop smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke. Smoking has been shown to increase cholesterol levels.