Maybe you want to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level but you are a bit confused about what to eat and what not to eat. In this article, we briefly discuss what cholesterol actually is, why you should limit your cholesterol intake, and cholesterol content in common foods.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy type of fat (lipid), which travels around the body in the blood. It is an essential molecule, as it is required for building cells, producing bile for digestion, and making vitamins and hormones. Cholesterol is produced in adequate quantities in the liver, but can also be obtained from foods from animals (1).
Why should you limit your cholesterol intake?
There are both “bad” and “good” forms of cholesterol, referring to how the cholesterol is packaged to move around the body. “Bad” LDL cholesterol is what gets deposited in blood vessel walls and increases the risk of heart disease. “Good” HDL cholesterol is the cholesterol that has been scavenged from around the body and is getting delivered back to the liver for recycling and excretion (2).
For more information about the different types of cholesterol, see our previous article “Bad” versus “good” cholesterol.
Keeping your cholesterol at healthy levels is very important for good cardiovascular health, but there are also other factors that can influence the risk of heart disease. See our article “What are the risk factors for heart disease?”
How much cholesterol should I consume?
If you have risk factors for heart disease (e.g., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes), it is important to limit your cholesterol intake to 200 mg or less per day. If you do not have any risk factors, an intake of up to 300 mg per day is acceptable (3).
What common foods are high in cholesterol?
Cholesterol is only found in animal foods, while fruits, vegetables, grains, and all other plant foods do not contain any cholesterol (3). So let’s go over a few common animal foods that contain quite a lot of cholesterol, and also alternatives that are a good choice to reduce cholesterol intake.
- Whole milk: 1 cup has 33 mg cholesterol. But if you choose a low-fat or non-fat option, you can cut your intake to just 10 mg or 4 mg, respectively.
- Yogurt: 1 cup has 29 mg cholesterol. Once again, a non-fat option is a lot healthier, containing only 10 mg.
- Cheddar cheese: 1 oz has 30 mg cholesterol. Consider choosing low-fat cottage cheese instead for just 10 mg in 1 cup.
- Butter: 1 teaspoon has 11 mg cholesterol, but the same quantity of vegetable oil doesn’t contain any cholesterol.
- Eggs: 1 egg contains approximately 212 mg of cholesterol, but research has shown that cholesterol from eggs doesn’t increase blood cholesterol levels the same as other animal foods. In fact, many studies have shown that an egg a day does not increase the risk of heart disease for most people. Although, egg intake should be limited to three per week for those with other heart disease risk factors or who already have heart disease (4).
- Ground beef: 3.5 oz has 78 mg cholesterol.
- Porkchop: 3.5 oz has 85 mg cholesterol.
- Chicken (without skin): 3.5 oz has 85 mg cholesterol.
- Lamb (foreshank): 3.5 oz has 106 mg cholesterol.
- Salmon: 3.5 oz has 63 mg cholesterol
- Tuna (in water): 3.5 oz has 30 mg cholesterol
- Consider other protein options to reduce your cholesterol intake, such as tofu and pinto beans, which don’t contain any cholesterol.
What are ways to reduce cholesterol?
Obviously reducing your consumption of animal foods can reduce blood cholesterol levels. Other options include increasing your fiber intake, limiting carbohydrate, alcohol, and fat intake, losing weight, increasing your physical activity, and abstaining from smoking (5).
How can I measure my cholesterol levels?
We offer a range of tests to measure your cholesterol levels, and each test just requires a tiny blood sample self-collected from a simple finger-prick.
- Cholesterol, Total
- High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol
- Lipid Panel (Heart Health)
- Lipid Panel (Heart Health) with hsCRP (Inflammation Assessment)
- Lipid Panel (Heart Health) with hsCRP (Inflammation Assessment) and HbA1c (Diabetes Risk Assessment)
1. What is Cholesterol? American Heart Association. (2020).
2. HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides. American Heart Association. (2020).
3. Cholesterol Content of Foods, Patient Education. UCSF Health.
4. Are eggs risky for heart health? (June 2019). Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
5. LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol. CDC. Reviewed Jan 2020.