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High-Cholesterol Foods: What to Eat and Avoid

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Do you remember when experts warned against eating cholesterol-rich foods like eggs? They claimed that consuming cholesterol would increase your blood cholesterol levels and put you at risk of heart disease. However, recent studies have challenged this belief, suggesting that some high-cholesterol foods may not actually increase your risk of heart disease. Still, it is crucial to consider the amount of cholesterol you consume, as many high-cholesterol foods also contain high levels of saturated fat.

According to registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, “It’s safe to have some cholesterol in your diet.” However, it’s important to note that excessive intake of saturated fat, which is often found in high-cholesterol foods, is linked to increased blood cholesterol levels and an elevated risk of heart disease. In this article, we will explore how to navigate the confusing landscape of cholesterol advice and identify the best high-cholesterol foods to incorporate into your diet, as well as those to avoid.

High-Cholesterol Foods to Avoid

While a moderate amount of cholesterol is acceptable, it is crucial to limit your consumption of saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fat are associated with elevated blood cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease. Here are some “unhealthy” high-cholesterol foods that you should consider limiting or avoiding due to their high saturated fat content:

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Full-fat dairy

Whole milk, butter, full-fat yogurt, and cheese are high in saturated fat. Cheese is also often high in sodium, which can contribute to health issues. To manage your intake, limit your cheese consumption to around 3 ounces per week. When cooking, opt for part-skim cheese like Swiss or mozzarella. Additionally, consider using skim (non-fat), 1%, or 2% milk to maintain your calcium intake. For cooking purposes, substitute butter with extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil.

Red meat

Steak, beef roast, ribs, pork chops, and ground beef typically contain high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. Opt for leaner cuts of meat, such as sirloin, tenderloin, filet or flank steak, and pork loin or tenderloin. Alternatively, focus on lower-fat sources of animal protein, such as skinless poultry or lean ground turkey.

Processed meat

Processed meat should generally be limited due to its high sodium content and lack of nutritional value. Bacon, sausage, and hot dogs are commonly made from fatty cuts of beef or pork. If you choose to consume processed meat, opt for minimally processed options like lean turkey or chicken deli meat or sausage.

Fried foods

Deep-fried foods like French fries and fried chicken with skin often contain a significant amount of saturated fat and cholesterol from the oil used in their preparation. Instead, consider healthier alternatives such as baked chicken or turkey without the skin, baked potatoes, or “fries” tossed with a small amount of olive oil. The use of an air fryer can also provide a lower-fat option for enjoying “fried” foods.

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Baked goods and sweets

Cookies, cakes, and doughnuts are usually made with butter or shortening, making them high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Additionally, these treats are usually packed with sugar, which can lead to high blood triglyceride levels and increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Opt for homemade desserts made without excessive amounts of butter or shortening. Additionally, reduce sugar quantities by modifying recipes or use baked fruit as a healthier dessert option. In baking, consider substituting applesauce for eggs or butter.

Best High-Cholesterol Foods to Eat

While some high-cholesterol foods should be consumed in moderation, they can still be part of a heart-healthy diet. Here are some examples:


Eggs have received a bad reputation due to their cholesterol content. However, one egg only contains about 60% of the daily value of cholesterol and a mere 8% of the recommended allowance for saturated fat. Eggs are an excellent source of protein, low in calories, and contain B vitamins, iron, and disease-fighting nutrients. If you need to monitor your cholesterol intake, focus on egg whites, which provide ample protein without any cholesterol.


Certain types of shellfish, like shrimp, have higher cholesterol content compared to others. However, their saturated fat levels are almost negligible. Shellfish is also a good source of protein, B vitamins, selenium, and zinc. Incorporate shrimp and other shellfish into your diet while keeping the portion size in mind.

Lean meat

Some lean meats, such as liver, kidney, sweetbreads, heart, and tripe, are high in cholesterol but low in saturated fat. While these options may not be the most appealing to everyone, they are still better alternatives to processed or red meats. Remember that moderation is key, especially for individuals with high cholesterol. Limit your intake of these foods and aim for no more than four egg yolks or two servings of shellfish per week.

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Moderation is Key

You don’t have to eliminate all high-cholesterol foods from your diet. In moderation, you can still enjoy “healthy” high-cholesterol foods that have a low saturated fat content. It is crucial to focus on overall dietary patterns and make healthy choices most of the time. As Julia Zumpano advises, think of less healthy foods as occasional treats rather than daily meal choices. If you need guidance in establishing a healthy eating plan, consult your healthcare provider, who can connect you with a licensed nutritionist or registered dietitian. They can help customize a diet that aligns with your health goals.

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