Cholesterol is a waxy substance important for many functions in the body. There are many foods high in cholesterol, but not all of them are unhealthy. Even though some are healthy foods, it still may be a good idea to limit your intake of certain cholesterol-heavy foods like some listed below.
It is best to avoid unhealthy foods high in cholesterol as much as possible, especially if you know you have high cholesterol levels. Often, foods high in saturated fats are also high in cholesterol (1, 2). Certain types of foods can also contribute to high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Many lifestyle factors contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels, such as lifestyle, smoking, exercise, and diet.
Speak with your doctor or healthcare professional if you have high cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is typically a silent enemy that does not have any alarming or obvious symptoms. Although rare, some symptoms include xanthomas and corneal arcus, which affect the eyes, neck, or back (3, 4). Doctors can help you find a diet and lifestyle that works best for your unique body. In some cases, it is important to manage and monitor high cholesterol with medication, also.
Summary: Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is needed in the body. Too much cholesterol can cause health issues, especially for the heart. If you have high cholesterol levels it may be best to reduce intake of cholesterol and focus on eating heart-healthy fats.
Table of Contents
Foods High in Cholesterol
Make sure you are keeping healthy cholesterol levels by limiting these foods today. Find out what foods are high in cholesterol and see where you may need to cut back today.
Eggs are one of the most common breakfast foods among all cultures. Between poached, fried, scrambled, baked, there is no end to how you can enjoy eggs. This healthy popular food is extremely high in cholesterol (5). Although eggs are high in cholesterol, some studies show they do not affect raising blood cholesterol (6, 7).
Eggs can be a part of a healthy diet, but it is important to keep portion sizes in check. If you have high cholesterol, be sure to limit your consumption of eggs (8). Be cautious when eating out at restaurants because egg portions are usually larger there. For example, omelets at diners usually have 3-4 eggs per dish, but all you need are 1-2 eggs per serving for optimal daily nutrition.
Summary: Eggs are very high in cholesterol. However, some studies suggest eating eggs does not raise blood cholesterol levels. The key is to keep portion sizes in check. 1-2 eggs per serving is a perfect dose.
Many types of cheeses are high in dietary cholesterol (9, 10). Some of the highest ones include blue cheese, Monterey Jack, ricotta, and camembert cheese. Other cheeses that are not as high but still contain a decent amount of cholesterol include swiss cheese, cream cheese, American, cheddar, gruyere, feta, and more. Cheese can still be a part of a healthy diet, though (11). One study found that cheese did not affect raising blood cholesterol levels. There were no changes even after consuming large portions of gouda cheese (12).
Just because a food is high in cholesterol does not mean it is unhealthy. Remember to consume smaller portion sizes to keep up with a healthy diet.
Summary: Cheese is high in cholesterol, but can still be incorporated into a healthy diet. The key is moderation and consuming smaller portion sizes. Bleu, Monterey Jack, ricotta, and camembert cheese are highest in cholesterol. Cheese with lower amounts include swiss, cream cheese, American cheddar, gruyere, and feta cheeses.
While red meat is typically a common culprit for raising cholesterol levels, there are new studies that show white and red meat may be equally as bad for cholesterol (13, 14). This is particularly true for fatty pieces of meat. If you have high cholesterol, it is best to avoid meat high in cholesterol like bacon, sausage, and other fatty pieces of meat.
On the other hand, lean meat can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet. Grass-fed beef, for example, can help reduce cholesterol levels (15). Some research suggests the many health benefits that grass-fed beef has compared to grain-fed beef (16). That’s because grass-fed beef has higher antioxidants and different fatty acid profiles than grain-fed (17).
Summary: Meat, especially fatty pieces of meat, can raise cholesterol levels. Bacon, sausage, and other fatty pieces are a few to name. Lean meat can be incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet. Aim for a 3-ounce portion, about the size of your palm. Grass-fed meat also has higher antioxidant and fatty acid profiles than grain-fed meats, so opt for those options as well.
4. Organ Meats
Organ meats are another food high in cholesterol, although they have many nutritional benefits (18). Organ meats like liver contain tons of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, D, essential B vitamins, iron, zinc, selenium, and more (19). Portion control is especially necessary for organ meats as well.
Keep in mind that organ meats are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. But if you have high cholesterol or a history of heart disease, it may be something you need to limit in your diet. Speak to a trusted healthcare provider if you are unsure how much you should be eating.
Summary: Organ meats contain vitamins A, D, essential B vitamins, iron, zinc, and selenium. However, they are also high in cholesterol. Portion control is key when consuming organ meats. Reduce your intake of organ meats if you have high cholesterol.
Yogurt is a healthy food that is also high in cholesterol (20). Yogurt can be part of a healthy diet if you practice portion control and figure out what yogurt works best for you. There are many types of yogurt to choose from including, goat milk yogurt, kefir, cow’s milk yogurt, almond milk yogurt, and even soy-based yogurt.
Full-fat cow’s milk yogurt may not be the best option if you have high cholesterol (21). But can pick any alternative from the list above if you want to enjoy yogurt on a more regular basis. Be careful not to pick a yogurt that is too high in sugar, whichever option you decide on. Adding extra sugar to yogurt will defeat some the health purposes like yogurt’s probiotic property. Probiotics are a healthy way to feed good bacteria in the gut (22). Don’t be afraid to consume yogurt if you have healthy cholesterol levels.
Summary: If you have high cholesterol, opt for lower fat or plant-based yogurts instead of full-fat versions. You should also watch for the amount of added sugar in yogurt, which is not great for health either. Probiotics in yogurt are a healthy way to feed good gut bacteria, which can help with overall health.
6. Baked Goods, Processed & Fast Food
Baked goods are always going to raise cholesterol levels in the blood (23). Baked goods like pie, muffins, bagels, croissants, pastries, and other common desserts are high in refined sugar and carbohydrates, which causes poor health. They raise blood sugar levels, and they can increase the risk of heart disease over time (24).
If you have a craving for a baked good, see if you can swap out a healthier version of your favorite treat on a less regular basis. For example, regular white flour muffins contain a lot more cholesterol than muffins baked with almond flour. There are many alternatives to common favorite foods; most stores have plenty of options for all diets.
Processed foods can range from quick microwaveable meals to cereals, bread, cakes, and more. Anything with too much added sugar or refined carbohydrates typically contains a lot of cholesterol (25), and it can raise blood sugar and cholesterol in the blood. Fast food is also in this category because it is usually extremely high in cholesterol (26). Fast food is generally also high in sodium, chemical additives, sugar, and unhealthy saturated fats.
Summary: Baked goods, such as pie, muffins, bagels, cookies, and pastries, are often high in refined sugar and carbohydrates. This increases blood sugar, and can eventually cause heart disease. Try baking with whole grain or almond flour, and reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe. Processed foods are generally high in unhealthy ingredients, even cholesterol, so opt for making your own food when possible.
Butter is another food in cholesterol (27), but many debate the potential health benefits or harms. Grass-fed butter, like beef, can help improve the health of some (28). Regular butter and grass-fed butter are always good to eat in moderation, especially if you are not sure about your cholesterol levels. Butter mostly contains much more saturated fat than unsaturated and monounsaturated fats (29). Both types of butter are high in essential nutrients like vitamin A, which is good for skin, vision, and immune system health (30).
Grass-fed butter, also known as ghee, is high in vitamin K2 (31), and it is far more nutritious than regular butter. Unlike regular butter, grass-fed butter is high in healthy unsaturated fats. For that reason and many others, grass-fed butter can be a heart-healthy food for many.
Summary: Butter contains more saturated fat, but does contain some healthier unsaturated fats and vitamin A. Grass-fed butter, known as ghee, is high in vitamin K2, and is generally more nutritious than regular butter. Use ghee in place of regular butter, or use less butter when cooking or baking.
8. Fried Foods
Fried foods are a common high-cholesterol food that is best to avoid altogether if you can. If you have healthy cholesterol levels, it’s ok to include some fried foods every once in a while, but limit it whenever possible. Fried foods are artery-clogging foods, raising blood cholesterol, blood sugar, and causing weight gain (32, 33). To maintain a healthy weight, good energy levels, and healthy joints, it is best to avoid fried foods as much as possible.
Summary: Consuming fried foods can increase cholesterol, blood sugar, and weight. It is best to eat fried foods every once in a while instead of all the time to avoid raising cholesterol levels.
Many kinds of shellfish are high in cholesterol including shrimp, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops, and more (34, 35). Although shellfish are high in dietary cholesterol, they will not affect your heart health. Shellfish are beneficial for heart-healthy food (36).
Shellfish can be a healthy part of a balanced diet as they are nutritional powerhouses, too. Most shellfish are high in many essential vitamins and minerals such as selenium, zinc, vitamin A, and more (37).
Summary: Shrimp, lobster, mussels, oysters, and scallops are all shellfish high in cholesterol. However, shellfish is a heart-healthy food and can be a part of a healthy diet. Eat the right portion size and reap the benefits of increased selenium, zinc, vitamin A, and protein intake.
Sardines are healthy for your heart, although they too are high in cholesterol (38). Sardines are also high in essential vitamins and minerals like shellfish, along with tons of omega-3 fatty acids (39). The monounsaturated fats in fish like sardines make them an excellent food for heart health, cholesterol control, and they can even lower blood sugar.
These fish are easy to add to your diet as they come canned in several different ways. Sardines come soaked in olive oil, tomato juice, and they even have flavors with many spicy seasonings.
Summary: Sardines are heart-healthy, full of omega-3 fatty acids, but are also high in cholesterol. The healthy fatty acids in sardines make them a great choice for heart health and lowering blood sugar. Eat them in the right serving size, about 3-4 ounces. Sardines taste well soaked in olive oil, tomato juice, and spicy seasonings.
Cholesterol is not the enemy. It is necessary for optimal health, but too much can cause harm in the body. Some other things you can do to avoid high cholesterol include stop smoking, eat more fiber-rich foods, exercise often, choose lean meat, and other foods low in saturated fats such as oatmeal, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
Healthy cholesterol levels are important to promote good health including heart health, hormone health, gallbladder function, much more. Obesity is a major the driver of high cholesterol levels, so make sure to always maintain a healthy weight, a lifestyle full of exercise and movement, and keep a healthy diet that works for you in the long-term.
These are only some foods that are high in cholesterol, but everyone’s body is unique to what they can tolerate based on age, sex, and family history. For the vast majority, removing unhealthy high cholesterol foods help to improve your health. If you think you suffer from high cholesterol, be sure to talk to your doctor about what you can do to resolve it. Changes in diet can significantly help reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels and improve overall health.
See how you can eliminate some of the unhealthy foods on this list that are high in cholesterol. Now, think about how much you eat of the healthy foods high in cholesterol on this list. How can you replace some of these foods here and there to improve your health? Removing or limiting the intake of foods high in cholesterol can create dramatic improvements in your health and wellbeing.