- 11 High-Cholesterol Foods — Which to Eat, Which to Avoid
- Best and Worst Foods for People With High Cholesterol
- What Is a Healthy Cholesterol Level?
- What Not to Eat: Foods That Raise Cholesterol
- What to Eat: Foods That Lower Cholesterol
- 7 foods that lower your cholesterol
- Cholesterol in food
- Worried about your cholesterol levels?
- What about eggs?
- Man cutting fruit
- Fats and cholesterol
- Foods containing cholesterol
- Fibre and cholesterol
- Cholesterol-lowering products
- Get active
- Is There Cholesterol in Fish?
- Do fish contain cholesterol?
- Understanding cholesterol
- Food and cholesterol levels
- Is it ok to eat fish if you’re watching your cholesterol?
- How do fish compare?
- How much fish should I eat?
- The takeaway
- Saturated fat
- Trans Fat
- Unsaturated fat
- Limiting saturated and trans fats
11 High-Cholesterol Foods — Which to Eat, Which to Avoid
Here are 7 high-cholesterol foods that are incredibly nutritious.
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. They also happen to be high in cholesterol, with one large egg delivering 211 mg of cholesterol, or 70% of the RDI (11).
People often avoid eggs out of fear that they may cause cholesterol to skyrocket. However, research shows that eggs don’t negatively impact cholesterol levels and that eating whole eggs can lead to increases in heart-protective HDL (12).
Aside from being rich in cholesterol, eggs are an excellent source of highly absorbable protein and loaded with beneficial nutrients like B vitamins, selenium and vitamin A (13).
Research has shown that eating 1–3 eggs per day is perfectly safe for healthy people (14, 15).
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of cheese provides 27 mg of cholesterol, or about 9% of the RDI (16).
Although cheese is often associated with increased cholesterol, several studies have shown that full-fat cheese does not negatively impact cholesterol levels.
One 12-week study in 162 people found that a high intake of 80 grams or about 3 ounces of full-fat cheese per day did not raise “bad” LDL cholesterol, compared to the same amount of low-fat cheese or the equal number of calories from bread and jam (17).
Different types of cheese vary in nutritional content, but most cheeses provide a good amount of calcium, protein, B vitamins and vitamin A (18, 19).
Since cheese is high in calories, stick to the recommended serving size of 1–2 ounces at a time to keep portions in check.
Shellfish — including clams, crab and shrimp — are an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, iron and selenium (20, 21).
They’re also high in cholesterol. For example, a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of shrimp provides 166 mg of cholesterol — which is over 50% of the RDI (22).
Additionally, shellfish contain bioactive components — such as carotenoid antioxidants and the amino acid taurine — that help prevent heart disease and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol (23, 24).
Populations that consume more seafood have demonstratively lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and inflammatory diseases like arthritis (25).
4. Pasture-Raised Steak
Pasture-raised steak is packed with protein, as well as important vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, zinc, selenium and iron (26).
It’s lower in cholesterol than feedlot beef and contains significantly more omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties (27, 28).
A 4-ounce (112-gram) serving of pasture-raised steak packs about 62 mg of cholesterol, or 20% of the RDI (29).
Though processed meat has a clear association with heart disease, several large population studies have found no association between red meat intake and heart disease risk (30, 31).
5. Organ Meats
Cholesterol-rich organ meats — such as heart, kidney and liver — are highly nutritious.
For example, chicken heart is an excellent source of the powerful antioxidant CoQ10, as well as vitamin B12, iron and zinc.
It’s also high in cholesterol, with a 2-ounce (56-gram) serving providing 105 mg of cholesterol, or 36% of the RDI (32).
One study in over 9,000 Korean adults found that those with a moderate intake of unprocessed meat — including organ meats — had a lower risk of developing heart disease than those with the lowest consumption (33).
Sardines are not only loaded with nutrients but also a tasty and convenient protein source that can be added to a wide variety of dishes.
One 3.75-ounce (92-gram) serving of these tiny fish contains 131 mg of cholesterol, or 44% of the RDI, but it also packs 63% of the RDI for vitamin D, 137% of the RDI for B12 and 35% of the RDI for calcium (34).
What’s more, sardines are an excellent source of iron, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, magnesium and vitamin E.
7. Full-Fat Yogurt
Full-fat yogurt is a cholesterol-rich food packed with nutrients like protein, calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and potassium.
One cup (245 grams) of full-fat yogurt contains 31.9 mg of cholesterol, or 11% of the RDI (35).
Recent research shows that increased consumption of full-fat fermented dairy products is associated with reductions in “bad” LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as lower risks of stroke, heart disease and diabetes (36).
Plus, fermented dairy products like yogurt benefit intestinal health by positively impacting friendly gut bacteria (37).
Summary Eggs, cheese, shellfish, pastured steak, organ meats, sardines and full-fat yogurt are cholesterol-rich, nutritious foods that make healthy additions to your diet.
Best and Worst Foods for People With High Cholesterol
What Is a Healthy Cholesterol Level?
According to the NHLBI, your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes, increases if you have an HDL cholesterol level of 40 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less for men and 50 mg/dL or less for women. The institute recommends that total daily cholesterol intake be less than 200 mg/dL, and that LDL cholesterol be less than 100 mg/dL.
What Not to Eat: Foods That Raise Cholesterol
Whether you have high cholesterol that needs to be lowered or you simply want to maintain an already-healthy cholesterol level, avoiding certain foods can help.
Any food that contains saturated fat is a no-no for a cholesterol-lowering diet. Trans fats are equally as bad, if not worse. “Trans fats are a double whammy — they raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol,” Featherstun says.
Here are some specific types of food to avoid:
Anything fried You’d be hard-pressed to walk into a restaurant in the United States and not find a deep fryer. But if you’re on a cholesterol-lowering diet, take a pass on the greasy stuff. Not only does deep frying cause foods to lose water and suck up fat, making them more calorie dense, but the oils that foods are fried in are often high in trans fats, the worst offenders.
If you can’t bear the thought of never eating another crunchy onion ring, consider using olive or sunflower oil when frying. In a study published in January 2012 in The BMJ, researchers in Spain, where olive and sunflower oils are used for frying, found that eating fried foods was not associated with increased rates of heart disease like it is in countries where saturated fats, like lard and butter, are used. Just be sure not to heat these oils past their smoke point — the temperature at which an oil starts to burn.
Hydrogenated oil These trans fats are found in packaged foods such as cookies, pastries, mayonnaise, crackers, microwave popcorn, and frozen dinners, and they’re used because they increase a product’s shelf life. You can stay away from these high-cholesterol culprits by checking food labels carefully. “If a food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the nutrition label may still read ‘0 trans fat,’” Featherstun explains. “Instead, check the ingredients list,” she advises. “If you see the word ’hydrogenated,’ don’t buy it.”
Meat Although the American Heart Association no longer cites dietary cholesterol as a concern for most people, the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University in Boston notes that if you have heart disease, have diabetes, or are a “hyper-responder” (a high amount of dietary cholesterol increases your blood cholesterol levels), it’s still important to limit the amount of cholesterol you get from food. Only foods of animal origin contain dietary cholesterol. Meat also tends to contain unhealthy saturated fats, which can increase bad cholesterol levels. Meat with visible fat or skin is a particularly unwise choice. Try to reduce the amount of meat in your diet. When you do eat meat, trim off any visible fat on steaks and chops, and always remove the skin from turkey and chicken, Featherstun says. Choosing lean cuts is also essential. When you have to satisfy a hamburger craving, choose the leanest ground meat possible, but bear in mind that even 90/10 ground beef still has 9.1 grams of fat and 3.6 grams of saturated fat in a cooked 3-ounce serving.
Full-fat dairy products Many people don’t realize how much saturated fat they get from milk products such as full-fat ice cream, cheese, whole milk, and whole-fat yogurt. “Instead, choose dairy products that are fat-free, made with 2 percent milk, or part skim,” Featherstun says.
What to Eat: Foods That Lower Cholesterol
“There is great evidence to support ‘functional foods’ that help lower cholesterol,” Featherstun says. Add these choices to your diet:
Plant stanols and sterols “These are naturally occurring compounds found in plant cell walls,” Featherstun says. “They interfere with cholesterol absorption in the small intestine and can help lower LDL cholesterol.” A study published in October 2012 in Lipids in Health and Disease found that eating 9 to 10 grams of stanols per day can help lower LDL cholesterol by more than 17 and as much as 22 percent. You can get plant stanols and sterols in margarine-like spreads such as Benecol and Smart Balance, available in the dairy section of most grocery stores.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats “These fats can help decrease LDL cholesterol,” Featherstun says. To get them, eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, trout, herring, or king mackerel, at least twice a week. Other good sources of unsaturated fats include chia seeds, avocados, almonds, walnuts, and olive oil.
Soy foods “Soy proteins contain isoflavones and phytoestrogens, which block both cholesterol absorption and new cholesterol production,” Featherstun says. Good sources of soy protein include tofu, soy milk, and edamame. “Try to replace one daily animal protein item with a soy protein alternative,” Featherstun suggests.
High-fiber foods “This indigestible part of a plant acts like a sponge and binds to cholesterol, helping to remove excess cholesterol that’s floating in the bloodstream,” says Sharon Zarabi, RD, a nutritionist and a private counselor for weight loss surgery patients at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. High-fiber foods that lower cholesterol include whole grains, such as 100 percent whole-wheat bread, oats, and barley; beans; dark, leafy green vegetables; and fruits with a tough skin. “Read nutrition labels closely and look for fiber content greater than 3 grams per serving,” she advises. “Aim for a total of 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day.”
Spices Not only do spices help flavor foods, but some in particular are also a good part of a cholesterol-lowering diet. “Turmeric, red cayenne pepper, thyme oil, and ginger are all thought to stabilize fat in the cell membranes, leading to lower triglycerides, which play a role in cholesterol level as well,” Zarabi says.
By making these changes to your diet, you’ll be well on your way to better cholesterol levels and a healthier heart.
7 foods that lower your cholesterol
Published: 30 October 2019
There’s good evidence that following a heart-healthy diet can improve your blood cholesterol and heart health. Find out which foods are best at helping to lower your cholesterol.
What is cholesterol
Cholesterol is a type of fat in your blood which is produced naturally by your body. It’s also found in some foods like eggs, offal (such as kidney and liver) and shellfish. Your body needs some cholesterol for it to work properly.
When you have high cholesterol levels in the blood (also called hyperlipidaemia) it speeds up the process of atherosclerosis. This is when plaque builds up in your artery walls, making them narrower. This makes it hard for blood to flow through them, and over time it can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Types of cholesterol
High cholesterol doesn’t show any symptoms. You need a blood test to find out if you have it. The blood test will tell you the levels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood (explained below).
Cholesterol is carried around the body by different ‘carriers’ (also called lipoproteins). The two most common are:
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: the ‘bad’ cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is ‘bad’ because if you have too much it gets stuck to the walls of your arteries
- High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: the ‘good’ cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is ‘good’ because it gets rid of ‘bad’ cholesterol from your blood vessels.
Triglycerides are the most common form of fat in your body and store and transport fat in the blood. Any extra energy from food that your body doesn’t need is turned into triglycerides.
High total blood cholesterol is a measure of all the cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood and is a risk factor for developing heart disease1.
Can my diet help my cholesterol?
Eating certain foods can help improve your cholesterol and overall heart health.
The best place to start is to eat a wide variety of plant foods. These include:
- whole grains
Eating plant foods will help you get a range of nutrients, heart-healthy fats and fibre. These all promote optimal heart health.
Some foods can actively help to lower your cholesterol and they all work in different ways. Try to include these foods in your meals whenever you can:
1. Oats and barley
Eating whole grain foods reduces your risk of heart disease. Oats and barley are extra special because they are high in a type of soluble fibre called ‘beta glucan’. Beta glucan helps to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in your blood2,3.
Tip: Flavoured oat products like ‘Quick Oats’ often contain added salt and/or sugar. Choose products that contain 100% oats (like rolled oats) as they’re closest to how they’re found in nature.
2. Vegetables and fruit
Eating a variety of colourful vegetables and fruit everyday can help protect you against heart disease, stroke and some cancers4,5. Many vegetables and fruit are high in soluble fibre which helps to reduce the absorption of cholesterol and lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in your blood.
Tip: Leave the skins on vegetables like pumpkin, kūmara and carrot to maximise your intake of fibre. Use orange and lemon peel in dressings and sauces.
3. Foods rich in heart-healthy fats
Eating plenty of foods that contain heart-healthy mono and poly-unsaturated fats increases the levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol in your blood.
These foods contain heart-healthy fats.
- Oily fish like mackerel, sardines and salmon
- Nuts and seeds
- Vegetable oils and spreads
Eating these foods instead of foods high in saturated fat (butter, cream, meat fats) improves your cholesterol. It’ll reduce your risk of heart disease too6.
Tip: Coconut, palm oil and many convenience foods are high in saturated fat and increase your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. Switch to heart-healthy fats and whole foods where possible.
4. Legumes and beans
Legumes like chickpeas and lentils are a great source of soluble fibre and plant-based protein. Eating legumes and beans instead of meat (animal protein) can help to lower your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol7.
Tip: Choose canned legumes for a quick and easy option. Rinse and drain the salty brine before using them. Use them in salads, sauces, casseroles and when making legume-based dips like hummus.
Nuts contain heart-healthy fats and fibre which can help to keep your cholesterol in check. Regularly eating nuts is linked to lower levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides8.
Tip: Eating a variety of nuts is best because they contain different levels of healthy fats. Choose nuts that are close to how they’re found in nature because they contain more nutrients. Look for nuts that have skins on, are unsalted and unroasted.
6. Soy products
Soy products include tofu, soy milk, soy beans and edamame beans. Some evidence shows that regularly eating soy products can help to slightly reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides7,9,10.
Tip: Choose soy products that are close to how they are found in nature, like soy beans, plain unsweetened soy milk and unflavoured tofu.
7. Plant sterols
Low levels of plant sterols are found in in fruits, vegetables, nuts and cereals. However, some foods (like margarine) have plant sterols added. Eating foods that contain plant sterols as part of a balanced diet can reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. This is because they reduce your absorption of cholesterol11.
Tip: Foods with plant sterols added are only effective if you eat them regularly. Remember that these foods are usually much more expensive than everyday foods and your overall diet matters most.
No single food
There is no single food that will help to lower your cholesterol and it’s important to focus on the quality of your overall diet.
A diet rich in plant foods like vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds will help to manage your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease.
How to eat for a healthy heartManage your risk of heart disease
Lily Henderson, NZRD
National Nutrition Advisor
I am passionate about improving the health of all Kiwis from young through to old. I have enjoyed working in nutrition in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Peters SA et al. Total cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke in women compared with men: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Atherosclerosis. 2016; 248:123-31.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Systematic Review of the Evidence for a Relationship between Oats, Barley and their derived Beta-glucans on Blood Cholesterol Concentration.2015.
EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to oat beta glucan and lowering blood cholesterol and reduced risk of (coronary) heart disease pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. 2010.
Wang X, Ouyang Y, Liu J et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. British Medical Journal. 2014;349:g4490.
Aune D, Giovannucci E, Boffetta P et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality – a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2017;46(3):1029-1056.
Schwab U et al. Effect of the amount and type of dietary fat on cardiometabolic risk factors and risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer: a systematic review. Food and Nutrition Research. 2014. 10;58.
Siying S. Li et al. Effect of Plant Protein on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2017.
Del Gobbo LC et al. Effects of tree nuts on blood lipids, apolipoproteins, and blood pressure: systematic review, meta-analysis, and dose-response of 61 controlled intervention trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015. 102(6): 1347–1356.
Benkhedda K et al. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Soy Products on Blood Cholesterol Levels. Nutrition. 2015.
Ras RT et al. LDL-cholesterol-lowering effect of plant sterols and stanols across different dose ranges: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled studies. British Journal of Nutrition. 2014. 112:2;214-9.
Most of us love to eat. It can be one of our favorite pastimes, munching on an assortment of delicious, delectable delights.
When we’re younger we usually never think about the harm certain foods can cause us. Try telling a teenage boy that comes home from school starving, because they always do, that eating an entire McDona (MCD) – Get Report Big Mac then topping it off with an ice cream sundae isn’t the healthiest of choices.
As we get older we have to start monitoring the things we eat, as some foods can aggravate existing health conditions or bring on new ones.
High cholesterol and heart disease are serious concerns for many people, and as much as we’d love to continue our teenage habits of eating anything and everything in sight, when diagnosed with these issues, monitoring what we eat becomes a top priority.
Cholesterol is “a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body,” the National Heart Long and Blood Institute says. The body needs cholesterol to produce hormones, Vitamin D, and substances that help you digest food. Your body will make enough of the cholesterol it needs to perform these functions, but some of the foods you eat can add to your cholesterol levels, and too much can lead to health issues, the National Heart Long and Blood Institute added.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults 20 years of age and older have their cholesterol checked with a lipoprotein blood test every four to six years.
The following is a list of 15 of the worst foods to eat if you have high cholesterol…
As a food that is high in iron, liver can be a healthy dish for some.
For others, however, liver can add to your levels of high cholesterol as this organ is the body’s primary source of cholesterol, and is where the waxy substance is made and stored, the American Heart Association website says.
The highest concentrated levels of cholesterol in animals are found in organ meat, everydayhealth.com writes.
Muffins can be a healthy breakfast choice, but that can depend on how the muffin is made.
For example, eating a low-fat bran muffin made with whole wheat flour can be beneficial to your health, everydayhealth.com says.
But muffins that we bake at home with whole milk and eggs and fill with extra treats, like chocolate chips, can have up to 8 grams of fat in one serving, everydayhealth.com added.
Once thought to be a healthy alternative to butter, margarine can be just as loaded with cholesterol.
“Since margarine was made from unsaturated vegetable oils, most people assumed it would be better for long-term health than butter, which was known to contain a lot of cholesterol and saturated fat. That assumption turned out to be wrong,” reads a Harvard School of Public Health study on fats and cholesterol. “Research showed that some forms of margarine – specifically the hard stick margarines – were worse for the heart than butter. This was because they contained large amounts of trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils.”
12. Microwave Popcorn
Popcorn is a snack that can be either good and bad for your health depending on how you prepare it.
Microwave popcorn loaded with butter, oil, and salt is not a healthy choice. These extras that are a normal part of the popcorn experience can add to your cholesterol levels.
However, opting for an unsalted, butter free bowl of popcorn is a good way to lower your cholesterol. If you need a little something extra added to your popcorn, everydayhealth.com suggests spraying some olive oil and sprinkling parmesan cheese over your snack.
11. Commercial Baked Goods
These snacks can be a delightful late night treat. A cupcake, some cookies, and a slice of cake can be hard to resist, but those with high cholesterol need to stay away from these commercial baked goods as they can be filled with trans fats a result of the use of hydrogenated vegetable oils, everydayhealth.com said.
While there are many health benefits to eating shellfish, those with heart disease or high cholesterol should avoid these foods.
Three ounces of lobster contains 61 mg of cholesterol, and that doesn’t include dipping it in melted butter, EverydayHealth.com writes.
9. Mac & Cheese
Whether you’re a kid or an adult, mac n’ cheese is one of America’s favorite comfort foods.
However much we may love this gooey collection of cheeses and pasta, often topped with breadcrumbs and a little bacon, the ingredients that make up this dish, such as whole milk, butter, and cheese, can be filled with saturated fats and cholesterol, EverydayHealth.com says.
Another all American favorite, summertime just wouldn’t be the same without a burger. The beef patty is so versatile that it can be loaded up with everything and anything, including onions, cheese, and bacon.
When you’re at work and in need of a quick lunch, running to a fast food restaurant is an easy solution.
But you may want to think twice before heading to McDonald’s, as a Big Mac has 85 mg of cholesterol and a Classic Double with everything from Wendy’s is loaded with 175 mg of cholesterol, EverydayHealth.com says.
7. Fried Chicken
It’s golden, crunchy, deep fried, and an extremely popular dish.
While chicken is often a go to menu item for people looking to chow down, you might want to consider opting for a more heart healthly chicken dish.
Fried chicken can be packed with more cholesterol than a hamburger, EverydayHealth.com says.
6. French Fries
Another American favorite, French Fries are considered a high cholesterol food due to the presence of hydrogenated vegetable oils.
“Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes more stable and less likely to spoil. It also converts the oil into a solid, which makes transportation easier. Partially hydrogenated oils can also withstand repeated heating without breaking down, making them ideal for frying fast foods,” says the Harvard School of Public Health study on fats and cholesterol.
Foods made with partially hydrogenated oils can have large amounts of Trans fats, the study said.
5. Cream Cheese
It tastes great on a bagel or baked into a cake, but cream cheese is another food high in cholesterol.
One ounce of cream cheese can contain 27 mg of cholesterol, says HealthCentral.com.
4. Ice Cream
This one might sting a little, but ice cream isn’t the best snack choice for those with high cholesterol.
One scoop of every kid’s favorite frozen treat has more fat than a hamburger and more cholesterol than 10 glazed doughnuts, EverydayHealth.com says.
3. Egg Yolks
A popular breakfast food, chicken eggs have a high cholesterol content.
While people with high cholesterol and heart disease were once told they should avoid eggs, the Mayoclinic.org says that eating four egg yolks or less on a weekly basis hasn’t been found to increase a person’s risk for heart disease.
Moderation is the key with this food, enjoy a scrambled egg for breakfast and watch your cholesterol intake for the rest of the day.
It seems that almost everything we consume is made better with butter: popcorn, toast, mashed potatoes, pancakes, the list can go on and on.
But if you’re dealing with high cholesterol and heart disease you might want to swap out that cholesterol filled pad of butter for some vegetable oil instead.
1. Red Meat
Red meats like beef, lamb, and pork tend to contain more cholesterol and saturated fat than other meats. This can contribute to an increase in your own cholesterol level and make already existing heart disease worse, according to the American Heart Association website.
Healthy alternatives to red meat include vegetable proteins, like beans, chicken (not fried), and fish, such as salmon, which is high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, the AHA says.
Cholesterol in food
Cholesterol in food only has a small effect on the level of cholesterol in your blood.
Cholesterol is a fat found in your blood. It’s produced naturally in your body, and you can also get cholesterol from some foods.
High total blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. Find out more about blood cholesterol.
Worried about your cholesterol levels?
When it comes to your blood cholesterol levels, cholesterol in food is less important than eating less saturated and trans fats, and more healthy fats.
Cholesterol in food has only a small effect on the bad (LDL) cholesterol in your blood. Saturated and trans fats in food cause a much greater increase in LDL cholesterol. Eating healthy fats helps the cholesterol balance by decreasing LDL and increasing the good (HDL) cholesterol.
You can include some cholesterol-rich foods as part of a healthy balanced diet low in saturated fat. Cholesterol-rich foods include offal (e.g. liver, pâté and kidney) and prawns.
What about eggs?
Most people don’t need to worry about eggs and cholesterol. Eggs are very nutritious. They contain good quality protein, lots of vitamins and minerals, and healthier polyunsaturated fat. The dietary cholesterol in eggs has only a small effect on blood LDL cholesterol, so you can enjoy up to six eggs each week as part of a healthy balanced diet.
Read more about eggs.
Learn more about blood cholesterol.
Man cutting fruit
Fats and cholesterol
There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Eating foods that are high in saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels in the blood.
Foods that are high in saturated fat include:
- meat pies
- sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- hard cheese
- cakes and biscuits
- foods that contain coconut or palm oil
Are you at risk?
Find out if you’re at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes or kidney disease using our Risk Checker.
Eating foods that contain unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat can actually help reduce cholesterol levels.
Try to replace foods containing saturated fats with foods that are high in unsaturated fats, such as:
- oily fish (for example, mackerel and salmon)
- nuts (for example, almonds and cashews)
- seeds (for example, sunflower and pumpkin)
- vegetable oils and spreads (for example, sunflower, olive, corn, walnut and rapeseed oils)
Trans fats can also raise cholesterol levels. These fats can be found naturally at low levels in some foods, such as animal products, including meat and dairy.
Artificial trans fats can be found in hydrogenated fat, so some processed foods such as biscuits and cakes will contain trans fats.
To help you have a healthy diet, try to cut down on foods that contain trans fats or saturated fats, and replace them with foods containing unsaturated fats.
You should also reduce the total amount of fat in your diet. Try microwaving, steaming, poaching, boiling or grilling instead of roasting or frying. Choose lean cuts of meat and go for low-fat varieties of dairy products and spreads (or eat just a small amount of full-fat varieties).
Foods containing cholesterol
Some foods contain cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is called ‘dietary cholesterol’. Foods such as kidneys, eggs and prawns are higher in dietary cholesterol than other foods.
The cholesterol found in food has much less of an effect on the level of cholesterol in your blood than the saturated fat you eat. The Heart Foundation recommends, for all Australians, that six eggs a week can be included as part of a diet low in saturated fat.
If your doctor has advised you to change your diet to reduce the level of cholesterol in your blood, the most important thing to do is to cut down on saturated fat. It’s also a good idea to increase your intake of fruit, vegetables and fibre.
Fibre and cholesterol
There are two different types of fibre: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Most foods contain a mixture of both.
Soluble fibre can be digested by your body — insoluble fibre cannot — and soluble fibre may help reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
Good sources of soluble fibre include:
- fruit and vegetables
Try to include more of these foods in your diet. Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
There is evidence that foods which contain certain added ingredients, such as plant sterols and stanols, can reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood. Plant sterols and stanols are found in nuts, seeds and legumes, vegetable oils, breads and cereals, and fruits and vegetables. You need to eat 2 to 3 grams a day of plant sterols and stanols to assist in reducing high cholesterol. Eating more is not harmful, but you won’t get any additional benefits.
One way to boost your intake of plant sterols and stanols is to eat foods that have been enriched. In Australia, these enriched foods include some margarines, low-fat milks, low-fat yoghurts and breakfast cereals, lower fat cheese and processed cheese. People who do not have high cholesterol should not eat these products regularly, particularly children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
If you do eat foods that are designed to lower cholesterol, read the label carefully to avoid eating too much.
You should not eat foods fortified with plant sterols as a substitute for medication. You can use plant sterol-enriched foods while taking cholesterol medication, but check with your doctor first.
An active lifestyle can also help to lower cholesterol levels. Activities range from walking and cycling to more vigorous exercise such as running and dancing.
Doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity on most days can improve your cholesterol levels.
Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you work hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.
One way to tell whether you are working at moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you cannot sing the words to a song.
Is There Cholesterol in Fish?
Okay, so cholesterol is bad and eating fish is good, right? But wait — don’t some fish contain cholesterol? And isn’t some cholesterol good for you? Let’s try to straighten this out.
Do fish contain cholesterol?
To start, the answer is yes — all fish contain some cholesterol. But don’t let that scare you. Different kinds of seafood contain different amounts of cholesterol, and many contain fats that can actually help you manage your cholesterol levels.
But before we get into which fish have what fats, let’s talk a little about cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that’s produced by your liver and is present in all of your cells. It helps you process vitamin D, break down foods, and make hormones.
There are two main kinds of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. You don’t want elevated levels of LDL cholesterol because it can accumulate in your blood vessels, block blood flow, and cause blood clots. These problems can lead to serious problems such as heart attack or stroke.
However, high levels of HDL cholesterol are good, as HDL cholesterol helps transport LDL cholesterol out of your arteries.
The National Institutes of Health previously recommended the following healthy cholesterol levels:
- Total cholesterol: less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
- LDL cholesterol (“bad”): less than 100 mg/dL
- HDL cholesterol (“good”): 60 mg/dL or higher
These guidelines were updated in 2013 in the United States, and the LDL cholesterol target was removed due to insufficient evidence. The European Union still uses LDL targets.
Food and cholesterol levels
The foods you eat affect your cholesterol levels, as do how much you exercise, your genetics, and your weight. Any foods that contain cholesterol will add some cholesterol to your bloodstream, but the main dietary culprits are saturated and trans fats. These fats increase your LDL levels and lower your HDL levels. The American Heart Association suggests consuming less than 7 percent of your calories from saturated fat and less than 1 percent from trans fats.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, are considered “healthy” fats. They add to your total fat grams but don’t cause any increase in LDL cholesterol levels.
Is it ok to eat fish if you’re watching your cholesterol?
If dietary changes are part of your overall plan to lower your LDL cholesterol levels, fish is a good option. While all fish contain some cholesterol, many are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential dietary fats that can actually help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels by lowering your triglyceride levels. They can also help increase your HDL levels.
Your body can’t make essential omega-3 fatty acids, so you have to get them from the food you eat. Omega-3s are important for a variety of body and brain functions and are even thought to affect mood and pain. Salmon, trout, and tuna, as well as walnuts and flaxseed, are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition, most fish are low in saturated and trans fats, and many contain no trans fats at all.
All of that said, you may be wondering about shrimp, which contains 161 mg of cholesterol in a 3-ounce serving. If you have high cholesterol levels, your doctor may advise you to avoid shrimp. If so, you should follow your doctor’s recommendations. But keep in mind that research has shown that the increase in HDL levels from eating shrimp may outweigh the risk from the increase in LDL levels. Learn more about it in this article on shrimp, cholesterol, and heart health.
How do fish compare?
Below are some fish to consider including in your diet. Each portion is 3 ounces, and all of the statistics assume low-fat preparation, such as broiling or grilling. Deep-frying your fish would definitely add fat and cholesterol. If you sauté fish, use an oil that’s low in saturated fat, such as avocado oil.
| Salmon, sockeye, cooked with dry heat, 3 oz.
Cholesterol: 52 mg
Saturated fat: 0.8 g
Trans fat: 0.02 g
Total fat: 4.7 g
Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which aid brain function in addition to balancing cholesterol levels and lowering blood pressure.
| Shrimp, cooked, 3 oz
Cholesterol: 161 mg
Saturated fat: 0.04 g
Trans fat: 0.02 g
Total fat: 0.24 g
Shrimp is one of America’s most popular seafoods. It’s a healthy source of protein, providing 20 grams for every 3 ounces. The healthiest way to cook shrimp is to steam or boil it.
| Tilapia, cooked with dry heat, 3 oz.
Cholesterol: 50 mg
Saturated fat: 0.8 g
Trans fat: 0.0 g
Total fat: 2.3 g
Tilapia is affordable and easy to prepare. It’s also a good source of calcium, which supports bone and tooth health.
| Cod, cooked with dry heat, 3 oz.
Cholesterol: 99 mg
Saturated fat: 0.3 g
Trans fat: 0.0 g
Total fat: 1.5 g
Cod is a more expensive fish, but holds up well in soups and stews. It’s a good source of magnesium, which helps in bone structure and energy production.
| Canned white tuna in water, 1 can
Cholesterol: 72 mg
Saturated fat: 1.3 g
Trans fat: 0.0 g
Total fat: 5.1 g
Canned tuna is a convenient option for a sandwich or casserole. It’s an excellent source of the energy-giving vitamin B-12.
| Trout (mixed species), cooked with dry heat, 3 oz.
Cholesterol: 63 mg Saturated fat: 1.2 g
Trans fat: 0.0 g
Total fat: 7.2 g
Trout is another good source of omega-3 fatty acids. It also provides phosphorus, which helps your kidneys filter out waste.
How much fish should I eat?
The American Heart Association recommends that people eat fish at least twice per week. They suggest a 3.5-ounce serving, preferably of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, herring, or trout.
There is some concern about pregnant women getting too much mercury from the fish they eat. Pregnant women should limit consumption of tuna to a 6-ounce serving three times a month, and limit cod to six servings a month, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
All fish contain some cholesterol, but they can be part of a heart-healthy diet. Interestingly, there is also evidence to suggest that a plant-based diet, excluding fish, is beneficial for managing chronic disease risk. To find out the best foods for you to eat to help manage your health and cholesterol, including fish, talk to your doctor. They can provide guidance, or they can refer you to a registered dietitian, who can create a diet plan just for you.
What you eat can affect your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Knowing which fats raise LDL cholesterol and which ones don’t can help you lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Your body naturally produces all the LDL cholesterol you need. Eating foods containing saturated and trans fats causes your body to produce even more LDL, raising the level of “bad” cholesterol in your blood.
It’s worth understanding the different kinds of fats: Saturated, trans and unsaturated.
Saturated fats are fat molecules that are “saturated” with hydrogen molecules. They are typically solids at room temperature.
Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods – primarily meat and dairy products. Beef, lamb, pork on poultry (with the skin on) contain saturated fats, as do butter, cream and cheese made from whole or 2 percent milk. Plant-based foods that contain saturated fats include coconut, coconut oil and cocoa butter, as well as palm oil and palm kernel oil (often called tropical oils).
For people who need to lower their cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends reducing saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of total daily calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat.
Trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Another name for trans fats is “partially hydrogenated oils.”
Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. These changes are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
Trans fats are found in many fried foods. Baked goods, such as pastries, pizza dough, pie crust, cookies and crackers also can also contain trans fats.
Since 2006, the FDA has required trans fat content to be listed on the Nutrition Facts panel of packaged foods. In recent years, many major national fast-food chains and casual-dining restaurant chains have announced that they will no longer use trans fats to fry or deep-fry foods.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults who would benefit from lowering LDL cholesterol eliminate trans fat from their diet.
To find the amount of trans fats in a particular packaged food, look at the Nutrition Facts panel. Companies must list any measurable amount of trans fat (0.5 grams or more per serving) in a separate line in the “Total Fat” section of the panel, directly beneath the line for “Saturated Fat.” This means if a food package states 0 grams of trans fats, it might still have some trans fats if the amount per serving is less than 0.5 g. Make sure to check the ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated oil.”
There are two kinds of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats have one (“mono”) unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. Polyunsaturated fats have more than one (“poly,” for many) unsaturated carbon bonds. Both of these unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature.
Eaten in moderation, both kinds of unsaturated fats may help to improve your blood cholesterol when used in place of saturated and trans fats.
Unsaturated fats are found in fish (such as salmon, trout and herring), and in plant-based foods such avocados, olives and walnuts. Liquid vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower, also contain unsaturated fats.
Limiting saturated and trans fats
Here are some ways to lower your intake of saturated and trans fats:
- Maintain a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts. Also limit red meat as well as sugary foods and beverages.
- Opt for naturally occurring unhydrogenated vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower or olive oil.
- Look for processed foods made with unhydrogenated oil rather than saturated fat or hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) vegetable oils.
- Use soft margarine as a substitute for butter and choose soft margarines (liquid or tub varieties) over harder stick forms. Look for “0 g trans fat” on the Nutrition Facts label.
- Doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies and cakes are examples of foods high in trans fat. Don’t eat them often.
- Limit commercially fried foods and baked goods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These foods are very high in fat, and it’s likely to be trans fat.
- Limit fried fast food. Commercial shortening and deep-frying fats are still made by hydrogenation and contain saturated and trans fats.
Consider using a food diary to keep track of what you eat. It’s a handy way to evaluate the healthy, not-so-healthy and unhealthy foods you’re making a part of your everyday diet.
Learn more about dietary fats, as well as cooking to lower cholesterol.
For years, we’ve been told to avoid high-cholesterol foods for heart health, but those days may be coming to an end.
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A top nutrition advisory committee says people no longer have to be concerned about eating foods that are high in cholesterol. The committee’s report, which was released today, will help shape the next version of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, set to be released later this year.
High levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which have been linked to heart disease, are still a health concern. What’s changed is that many researchers and physicians now believe that eating cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs may not affect the cholesterol that is in your blood.
However, people with certain health problems, such as diabetes, should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich foods, the report says.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that ultimately ends up in the walls of arteries. It causes the plaques that lead to heart attacks and strokes. The current U.S. Dietary Guidelines call for a daily cholesterol limit of 300 milligrams.
Researchers are beginning to understand in greater depth that the relationship between cholesterol and the body is extremely complicated.
- The body regulates how much cholesterol is in your blood.
- There’s different kinds of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein or LDL (bad) cholesterol contributes to plaque buildup along with triglycerides, another lipid. High-density lipoprotein or HDL (good) cholesterol discourages plaque buildup.
- The way people process cholesterol differs. Some people appear to be more vulnerable to cholesterol-rich diets.
Research is beginning to show that your genetic makeup – not diet – is the driving force behind cholesterol levels, says cardiologist Steven Nissen, MD.
The body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than what you can eat, Dr. Nissen says. So avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol won’t affect your blood cholesterol levels very much.
“About 85 percent of the cholesterol in the circulation is manufactured by the body in the liver,” he says. “It isn’t coming directly from the cholesterol that you eat.”
What you should worry about
The greater danger for everyone is in foods that are high in trans fats, Dr. Nissen says.
“Those often appear on food labels as hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” Dr. Nissen says. “Those types of fats do tend to raise cholesterol and do tend to increase the risk of heart disease.”
The new U.S. Dietary Guidelines are expected to be announced later this year.
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