You may have heard that eating foods that are high in cholesterol does not affect your cholesterol levels.
Unfortunately, this isn’t true: Research has found that eating excessive dietary cholesterol does result in increases in blood cholesterol levels.
But it’s not just cholesterol that affects your cholesterol levels—saturated fat, trans fats, and other nutrients can all have an effect.
Consuming such foods may raise your cholesterol levels and put you at risk for cardiovascular disease, such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke.
In this article, I’ll explain what high cholesterol is, and the risks it can pose to your health.
Then I’ll outline some foods that are high in dietary cholesterol, as well as foods with other nutrients that could impact your cholesterol levels.
Finally, I’ll tell you when you should talk to your doctor or another healthcare provider about your cholesterol.
What is High Cholesterol?
Nearly 28 million American adults have high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced by your liver and found in your blood.
You actually need some cholesterol—it helps you digest fatty foods, and is used to produce certain hormones.
But too much cholesterol can contribute to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, narrowing your blood vessels, and inhibiting blood flow.
Cholesterol moves through your blood by attaching to proteins, becoming what is called a lipoprotein.
There are two types: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is considered “bad” cholesterol, whereas HDL cholesterol is considered “good.”
High levels of LDL increase your risk of dangerous, life threatening diseases, while HDL is somewhat protective.
Your body naturally produces all of the cholesterol it needs, and high dietary intake of excess cholesterol raises your LDL cholesterol levels.
You are considered to have high levels of cholesterol when your total cholesterol is equal to or more than 239 mg/dL for men and women 20 and older.
Desirable ranges for total cholesterol are between 125 mg/dL to 200 mg/dL.
High cholesterol can be the result of genetics, poor diet, an unhealthy lifestyle, or other factors.
There are a number of ways to manage cholesterol: There are medications designed to help balance your “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
Healthcare professionals may also recommend a diet and exercise plan to balance your numbers.
Foods with High Cholesterol to Avoid
A healthy diet is a key component to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol-rich foods can increase the amount of cholesterol in your body.
By avoiding these foods and making small lifestyle changes, you can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.
While chicken eggs, in moderation, can be a good, affordable source of protein, eggs are naturally a cholesterol-rich food, particularly the yolk.
Some studies show that a single egg yolk may contain upwards of 275 mg of cholesterol, which is more than the recommended 200 mg per day.
While egg yolks do not raise cholesterol levels as much as other meats and saturated fats, it is still best to avoid egg yolks if you already have high cholesterol levels.
Hot dogs, sausage, and bacon are examples of processed meats that are high in cholesterol and fat.
Turkey and chicken alternatives, such as turkey bacon or chicken sausage, are better options.
But they are also not cholesterol-free and should be consumed in moderation.
Red meat tends to be higher in trans fats than its leaner meat counterparts.
In general, you should limit your consumption of animal products, especially red meat, to one day per week.
You can also replace meat entirely with alternative protein sources such as beans, nuts, and tofu.
Fried food is often deep fried in oil, such as corn oil and grapeseed oil, which are high in saturated fat and increase LDL cholesterol.
Instead of eating fried foods, try using an air fryer, or drizzle your food with olive oil and bake it for a similar, satisfying crunch.
Cheese tends to be high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
It is also often high in sodium, which can also put you at risk for hypertension.
Try to limit cheese consumption when you are able, and opt for non-fat or low-fat options, such as mozzarella or ricotta.
Butter is high in fat, which contributes to cholesterol levels.
Try limiting baked goods, which often contain high amounts of butter and shortening.
Use unsaturated fats like olive or avocado oils when baking at home.
Similar to cheese and butter, other full-fat dairy products tend to increase LDL cholesterol, as they are often high in saturated fats and cholesterol.
Try swapping dairy foods like whole milk for skim or 1%, and full-fat yogurt for skim.
Instead of ice cream, opt for a less fatty food like sorbet or frozen yogurt.
Also consider alternatives to dairy, such as almond or oat milk products.
It is best to avoid trans fats, which not only cause high LDL levels, but also lower “good” HDL cholesterol.
Trans fats are often found in items that contain hydrogenated vegetable oils.
These are used to give foods a longer shelf life and are also sometimes used in deep fryers at restaurants.
Trans fats naturally occur in some types of dairy and meat, as well as certain food products like baked goods, frozen foods, fried food, frozen dough, and non-dairy creamers.
Read food labels and beware of hidden trans fats in food.
Excessive consumption of alcohol can also raise your bad cholesterol levels.
When to See a Doctor
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests people get their cholesterol checked every five years starting between the ages of 9-11.
As individuals get older, screenings should be adjusted to every two years. Individuals over 65 should get annual cholesterol tests.
Depending on results, your doctor or provider may want to test your blood pressure and cholesterol more frequently.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Dietary cholesterol and egg yolks: Not for patients at risk of vascular disease. (2010).
Unprocessed Red and Processed Meats and Risk of Coronary Artery Disease and Type 2 Diabetes – An Updated Review of the Evidence. (2013).
Picking Healthy Proteins. (2021).
Red and processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. (2017).