One day, foods high in cholesterol are dietary culprits — the next day, they're superfoods. (Eggs are a perfect example of this phenomenon.)
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Let's break down the reason behind the confusion. First of all, cholesterol is a waxy type of fat that is produced in your body and found in food.
Cholesterol in food, or dietary cholesterol, is in most animal products, like meat, milk, yogurt and eggs. Dietary cholesterol only makes up about 20 percent of the cholesterol in your blood, per Harvard Health Publishing.
The majority of the cholesterol in your body is produced by your liver, and it makes enough, so you don't have to get cholesterol from food. Cholesterol keeps cell membranes strong and helps your body make hormones, vitamin D and bile acids, according to a July 2019 study in Nutrients.
Cholesterol is carried through the blood by lipid carriers called lipoproteins. The main lipoproteins are high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
HDL is often called "good cholesterol" because it helps your body get rid of cholesterol by moving it from cells to the liver. High HDL levels are linked with a lower risk of heart disease or stroke.
On the other hand, LDL is referred to as "bad cholesterol" because high levels can cause atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in your arteries. This can contribute to a heart attack or stroke, per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
There are no foods high in HDL cholesterol or LDL, but certain foods can raise or lower your HDL, LDL or total cholesterol levels. And some of these foods don't even contain cholesterol.
For example, bananas and potatoes don't contain any cholesterol, but because they're rich in soluble fiber, they can help decrease LDL and total cholesterol levels.
How Much Cholesterol Should You Eat?
There's no minimum dietary cholesterol goal because your body makes enough. When it comes to maximum levels, previous guidelines advised limiting cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams daily.
However, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans no longer list an upper limit. Instead, they encourage us to keep dietary cholesterol (and trans fat) intake as low as possible while maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.
Below, you'll find two lists of foods high in cholesterol: foods to include in your diet and foods you might want to cut out. Note that the FDA's Daily Value (DV) percentages are based on eating 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day.
Foods High in Cholesterol That Are Healthy
1. Shrimp: 358.7 mg, 120% Daily Value (DV)
Shrimp and other shellfish tend to be high in cholesterol. Case in point: You'll get 120 percent of the DV for cholesterol in 6 ounces of cooked shrimp, but it's low in total and saturated fat.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends lowering saturated fat intake to keep cholesterol levels at bay — and supports shrimp as a healthy alternative to proteins higher in saturated fat.
2. Chicken Breast: 197.2 mg, 66% DV
Chicken has more cholesterol than eggs. You'll get 66 percent of the DV for cholesterol in a 6-ounce serving of cooked chicken breast, but only 9 percent of the saturated fat DV.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend keeping saturated fat intake below 10 percent of your daily calories. Because chicken is lower in saturated fat than red meats, the AHA recommends choosing it over beef, pork and lamb.
If you're getting bored with the usual grilled chicken, try these healthy and creative chicken recipes.
3. Sardines: 130.6 mg, 44% DV
One can of sardines has 44 percent of the DV for cholesterol. But you should still include these little fish in your diet because they're loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, providing 103 percent of the DV.
Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat that can lower heart attack risk, blood pressure and triglyceride levels, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Try them in these protein-packed sardines recipes that promise to be free of any unpleasant "fishy" taste.
4. Eggs: 186.5 mg, 62% DV
One hard-boiled egg provides 62 percent of the DV for cholesterol, so it's no question that eggs are high in cholesterol.
But the good news is many dietitians agree eggs can be part of a healthy diet. Eggs can increase your HDL cholesterol levels, according to an April 2018 review in Nutrients, so try them in these nutritious egg recipes.
5. Turkey Breast: 136 mg, 45% DV
Turkey's popularity might peak around Thanksgiving, but it deserves more time in the spotlight. While a 6-ounce serving of roasted turkey breast has 45 percent of the DV for cholesterol, it only has 1 gram of saturated fat (5 percent of the DV). Because saturated fat is the type of fat you want to limit, turkey can be a healthier option for meat lovers.
6. Mackerel: 127.5 mg, 43% DV
Like sardines, mackerel is a fatty fish high in cholesterol and omega-3s. A cooked 6-ounce fillet of Atlantic mackerel gives you 43 percent of the DV for cholesterol and 139 percent DV for omega-3s.
7. Blue Crab: 114.5 mg, 38% DV
Crabs are another healthy seafood to put on your plate. They're rich in protein, omega-3s, selenium and vitamin B12. Like other shellfish, they're high in cholesterol and low in saturated fat. You'll get 38 percent of the DV for cholesterol but only 1 percent of the DV for saturated fat in 1 cup of flaked blue crab.
Just be mindful of how you prepare it because butter or cream sauces can easily bump up the saturated fat.
8. Salmon: 103.7 mg, 35% DV
Salmon is one of the healthiest proteins despite being a high-cholesterol food. A cooked 6-ounce fillet of sockeye salmon has 35 percent of the DV for cholesterol and 108 percent DV for omega-3. This fatty fish is also an excellent source of protein, vitamin D, selenium and B vitamins.
9. Whole Milk: 48.8 mg, 16% DV
Whole milk is rich in cholesterol and saturated fat, providing 16 percent of the DV for cholesterol and 46 percent of the saturated fat DV per 16-ounce serving.
Whole milk can increase HDL more than skim milk, according to a February 2018 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study also found that whole and skim milk had similar effects on LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, even though whole milk has more cholesterol and saturated fat.
10. Full-Fat Yogurt: 31.9 mg, 11% DV
Yogurt is a versatile and healthy addition to any meal or snack. It can instantly add creaminess to dressings, sauces or dips.
A cup of plain whole-milk yogurt provides 11 percent of the DV for cholesterol, but it's also rich in calcium and vitamin B12. If you're on the hunt for more protein in your diet, choose skyr or Greek yogurt. Try it in these high-protein yogurt dinner recipes perfect for when you're in the mood for savory yogurt instead of sweet.
Healthy Foods High in Cholesterol
6 oz. cooked
358.7 mg, 120% DV
6 oz. cooked
197.2 mg, 66% DV
130.6 mg, 44% DV
186.5 mg, 62% DV
6 oz. cooked
136 mg, 45% DV
6 oz. cooked
127.5 mg, 43% DV
1 cup cooked
114.5 mg, 38% DV
6 oz. cooked
103.7 mg, 35% DV
48.8 mg, 16% DV
31.9 mg, 11% DV
Foods High in Cholesterol to Avoid
1. Fast Food: 465.4 mg, 155% DV
We're not shocked that fast food tops the list of foods high in cholesterol you should avoid. Fast food is high in saturated fat, trans fat, refined carbs, added sugar and salt — all the things you want to limit on a heart-healthy diet.
Topping the list, McDonald's Big Breakfast has 155 percent of the DV for cholesterol, 67 percent DV for total fat and 86 percent DV for saturated fat.
Burger King's Double Whopper with Cheese has a whopping (pun intended) 63 percent of the DV for cholesterol. But that's not all: You'll also get 87 percent DV for total fat and 140 percent DV for saturated fat.
2. Sausage: 270.1mg, 90% DV
You might want to rethink how often you eat sausages and other processed meats. A large cooked kielbasa sausage link provides 90 percent of the DV for cholesterol. Plus, it's high in saturated fat, sodium, nitrates and other preservatives.
Processed meat intake can increase your risk of developing diabetes and coronary heart disease (CHD). In fact, CHD risk can increase 18 percent for every 50 grams per day (or 1.8 ounces) of processed red meat you eat, according to a July 2021 study in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
3. Fried Calamari: 221 mg, 74% DV
4. Bacon, Egg and Cheese Croissant: 217.6 mg, 73% DV
Grabbing a BEC sandwich may be convenient, but it's not a heart-healthy choice. A bacon, egg and cheese croissant has 73 percent of the DV for cholesterol and 45 percent DV for saturated fat.
Plus, commercial baked goods like croissants can be high in trans fats, which are the unhealthiest fats out there. Trans fats provide a double-whammy for your cholesterol levels: They increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol.
5. Pork Chops: 177.2 mg, 59% DV
Fatty red meat like pork chops is high in the kind of fat you want to limit: saturated fat. One pork chop with fat provides 59 percent of the DV for cholesterol and 46 percent of the saturated fat DV.
Simply choosing a lean pork chop (with the fat removed) cuts the saturated fat to 20 percent of the DV.
6. Fried Chicken: 161 mg, 54% DV
Crispy fried chicken is one of the most popular fast foods in America, but that doesn't mean it's good for you. In one KFC fried chicken breast with skin, you'll get 54 percent of the DV for cholesterol, as well as 45 percent DV for total fat and 38 percent DV for saturated fat.
Fried foods, especially fried chicken and fried fish, are linked with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a January 2019 study in the BMJ. The study also found that the more fried food people ate, the greater their chance of developing heart disease.
7. Mozzarella Sticks: 88.2 mg, 29% DV
Sure they're crispy on the outside and melty on the inside but like the other fried foods on this list, you're better off choosing something else.
A restaurant order of mozzarella sticks gives you 29 percent of the DV for cholesterol and 84 percent DV for saturated fat. Plus, it contains about 1 gram of trans fats.
8. Cake: 50.3 mg, 17% DV
A slice of yellow cake with vanilla frosting has 17 percent of the DV for cholesterol. You'll also walk away with 10 percent DV for saturated fat and 56 percent DV for sugar.
9. Bacon: 35.6 mg, 12% DV
Bacon should be eaten in moderation as three slices of pan-fried bacon provide 12 percent of the DV for cholesterol and 22 percent of the DV for saturated fat.
10. Butter: 30.5 mg, 10% DV
One tablespoon of salted butter has 10 percent of the DV for cholesterol and 36 percent DV for saturated fats.
If you have high cholesterol and need to lower your levels, the AHA recommends keeping saturated fat intake below 6 percent of your total calories. To cut down on your saturated fat intake, opt for meal prepping with healthy cooking oils like olive or avocado oil.
Foods High in Cholesterol to Avoid List
465.4 mg, 155% DV
270.1mg, 90% DV
221 mg, 74% DV
Bacon, Egg, Cheese Croissant
217.6 mg, 73% DV
177.2 mg, 59% DV
1 chicken breast
161 mg, 54% DV
1 restaurant order
88.2 mg, 29% DV
50.3 mg, 17% DV
35.6 mg, 12% DV
30.5 mg, 10% DV
Do Vegetables Have Cholesterol?
Some people question if vegetables have cholesterol. Luckily, the answer is quite simple. Vegetables (as well as fruits, nuts and whole grains) do not contain cholesterol. For a food item to have dietary cholesterol, it would need to come from an animal or contain a product from an animal.
But, some vegetables do have some fat in the form of polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. Eating more of these unsaturated fats may improve your cholesterol levels, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Soybeans appear to have the most polyunsaturated fat, coming in at right around 11 grams per cup. Other sources of unsaturated fat from vegetables include olives and avocados. Most other vegetables have less than two grams of fat.
- Nutrients: "New Insights into Cholesterol Functions: A Friend or an Enemy?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How it’s made: Cholesterol production in your body"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- Centers for Disease Control: "LDL and HDL Cholesterol: "Bad" and "Good" Cholesterol
- Nutrients: "Dietary Cholesterol, Serum Lipids, and Heart Disease: Are Eggs Working for or Against You?"
- American Heart Association: "Cooking to Lower Cholesterol"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Heart Healthy Eating to Help Lower Cholesterol Levels"
- AHA: "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids"
- AHA: "Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Picking Healthy Proteins"
- FDA: "Daily Value on the New Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels"
- USDA: "My Food Data"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Meat consumption and risk of ischemic heart disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis"
- BMJ: "Association of fried food consumption with all cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: prospective cohort study"
- AHA: "The Skinny on Fats"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol