6 Foods to Avoid When You Have High Cholesterol

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  • Despite its reputation, cholesterol is not ‘bad.’ Your body uses cholesterol—a fatty substance—for many purposes, including synthesizing vitamin D. But too much low-density cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream can cause problems like narrowing of the arteries. The science remains unsettled regarding whether people with elevated cholesterol levels should avoid eating foods high in cholesterol, but some studies conclude it may be prudent to do so. And you can manage your cholesterol by making other smart dietary choices too. Start by reading this list of high cholesterol foods to avoid.

  • 1
    Eggs
    close up of scrambled eggs with fork

    The humble egg has been both implicated and exonerated over the decades as a contributor to high cholesterol levels. But a 2019 study that analyzed 30 years-worth of data regarding egg consumption and cardiovascular disease drew a strong correlation between eating eggs and developing heart disease. That’s why eggs once again sit atop the high cholesterol foods list. One large egg contains about 187 milligrams of cholesterol—almost an entire day’s recommended amount (200 milligrams) for a person with high cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, talk with your doctor about whether or not you should limit your egg consumption.

  • 2
    Liver and Other Organ Meats
    raw beef liver with olive oil, spices and herbs on wood cutting board

    One three-ounce serving of beef liver packs a whopping 300 milligrams of cholesterol, which exceeds the limit recommended for people with high cholesterol. Other organ meats fare no better. A similarly sized serving of lamb kidney contains around 475 milligrams of cholesterol. And the fact that many organs meats are prepared by frying likely increases the dish’s cholesterol content. In general, people with high cholesterol levels should avoid all types of organ meats from any breed of animal.

  • 3
    Red Meats
    fresh raw pork tenderloin on wooden cutting board

    In addition to organ meats, people with high cholesterol should avoid eating any type of red meat, including beef and pork. Instead, choose lean poultry (white meat), fish and beans to meet your protein needs. Fish, in particular, represents a low-cholesterol, high-protein food that also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your cholesterol. And raw frozen fish contains the same levels of healthy fats as a fresh-caught portion, so you can keep a nutritious alternative to red meat on hand at all times in the freezer.

  • 4
    Shrimp and Squid
    shrimp and squid salad

    These seafoods may be delicious, but they’re high in cholesterol. A 3.5-ounce serving of steamed shrimp contains around 211 milligrams of cholesterol, while the same size serving of raw squid contains 233 milligrams. Breaded and deep-fried shrimp and calamari become fat-laden, which makes them an even worse choice for managing your cholesterol levels. If you crave seafood, try steamed clams instead. A 3.5-ounce portion contains a more reasonable 67 milligrams of cholesterol.

  • 5
    Butter and Full-Fat Dairy Products
    butter

    Eating high-cholesterol foods may raise your serum (blood) cholesterol levels, but eating saturated fats contributes as well. Butter checks both of these boxes—being high in cholesterol and high in saturated fat. In general, you should avoid eating full-fat dairy products of all kinds. Choose a healthful margarine instead of butter, and reach for reduced-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and other dairy products whenever possible. One exception? Full-fat plain yogurt contains around 25 milligrams of cholesterol per 8-ounce container, so feel free to enjoy!

  • 6
    Trans Fats
    making deep fried doughnuts

    Trans fats (also called trans fatty acids) may not contain high amounts of cholesterol, but the evidence shows they can raise your serum cholesterol levels anyway, which definitely puts them on any list of foods to avoid when you have high cholesterol. Many food manufacturers and restaurants use trans fats for deep frying or to give their packaged products an appealing texture. You should avoid consuming trans fats by sidestepping fried foods and reading labels to look for the term ‘hydrogenated,’ which denotes a food containing trans fatty acids.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jul 26
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Cholesterol. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/cholesterol.html
  2. How to Lower Cholesterol with Diet. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/howtolowercholesterolwithdiet.html
  3. Meat, Poultry and Fish: Picking Healthy Proteins. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/meat-poultry-and-fish-picking-healthy-proteins
  4. Healthy Cooking Oils. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/healthy-cooking-oils?uid=1885
  5. Trans Fats. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat
  6. Nutritionix. https://www.nutritionix.com/
  7. Zhong VW, Van Horn L, Cornelis MC, et al. Associations of Dietary Cholesterol or Egg Consumption With Incident Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality. JAMA. 2019;321(11):1081-1095. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2728487
  8. Soliman G. Dietary Cholesterol and the Lack of Evidence in Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients. 2018;10(6):780. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024687/ 


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