Top 10 Foods Highest in Cholesterol

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Dr. Thomas Kutner
Evidence Based. References sourced from PubMed.
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Top 10 Foods Highest in Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a steroid lipid (fat) present in the blood, necessary for the proper functioning of cell membranes, the production of vitamin D, and the production of certain hormones.

Cholesterol deficiency is rare, as our bodies manufacture the cholesterol we need. High blood cholesterol levels, on the other hand, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems. (1,2)

The effect of cholesterol foods on blood cholesterol levels is a matter of debate. Some studies find a link between dietary cholesterol and higher blood cholesterol, while other studies find no result. (3,4,5)

Dietary cholesterol is just one of many factors that contribute to blood cholesterol, and thus, it is difficult to isolate the effect of dietary cholesterol. (3,4,5) Certain groups of people, such as smokers, are more sensitive to dietary cholesterol. (5,6)

Eating a diet of healthy fats and fiber helps to lower cholesterol. (7,8)

Foods high in cholesterol include fast foods, liver, fatty meats, canned shrimp, desserts, eggs, whipped cream, bacon, cheese, and butter. The current daily value (DV) for cholesterol is 300mg. (9)

Below is a list of high-cholesterol foods sorted by a common serving size. To lower your cholesterol, read the article on cholesterol lowering foods, and foods to avoid for a healthy heart.

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Printable list of foods high in cholesterol.

High Risk Groups for High Blood Cholesterol

  • Individuals with a family history of high cholesterol (Familial Hypercholesterolemia) - Regulation of blood cholesterol levels is hereditary and it is advisable to find out if relatives have high cholesterol levels. (10,11)
  • Older Adults - Cholesterol levels decline between the ages of 10-20 years old, but then rise after that. Men reach peak cholesterol levels between the ages of 50-60 and then plateau. Women reach peak levels between the ages of 60-70 and then plateau after. (12)
  • Over-weight Individuals - Being over-weight increases risk of heart disease and correlates with high cholesterol levels. (13,14)
  • People with Low Physical Activity Levels - Exercise is an effective way to lower bad cholesterol levels (LDLs) and raise good cholesterol levels (HDLs). People who are not physically active are more likely to have high cholesterol levels. (15,16)
  • High Blood Pressure - High blood pressure is correlated with higher blood cholesterol. It is difficult to tell if high blood pressure is the cause, or related lifestyle factors such as smoking, stress, and lack of exercise. (17,18)
  • Smokers - Smoking is associated with 10-18% higher blood cholesterol levels. There is even a dose-response effect where the more people smoke tobacco the higher their cholesterol. (19)

What Foods Lower Cholesterol?

Blood cholesterol can be lowered with dietary changes. Foods that lower cholesterol include healthy fats, oat bran, flax seeds, garlic, almonds, walnuts, whole barley, and green tea. For more, see the article on cholesterol-lowering foods.

Does Saturated Fat Increase Blood Cholesterol?

The relationship between saturated fat and blood cholesterol is a source of much controversy. In recent times, new studies suggest that the relationship between saturated fat and blood cholesterol is not as strong as thought. (20,21)

The recommendation to replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates also made the problem worse. Instead, saturated fats should be substituted with poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and whole grains which do reduce cholesterol. (22,23,24)

Further, not all saturated fats are created equal. Saturated fats from plant foods like coconut and chocolate will likely confer more health benefits than saturated fats from heavy cream and processed meats.

Do Hydrogenated Fats Increase Cholesterol?

Another result of previous advice to avoid foods high in saturated fats led to the creation of hydrogenated fats. Hydrogenation adds hydrogen to previously unsaturated fats. The result creates oils that are solid at room temperature and have a much longer shelf life.

Hydrogenated fats became a component of margarine and butter substitutes and also a component of a wide array of shelf-stable processed foods.

Data subsequently showed a high correlation between hydrogenated fats and higher blood cholesterol levels, as well as increased risk of cardiovascular disease. (25,26,27) Numerous governments now ban the use of partially hydrogenated oils and fats. (28) In 2015 the US FDA also released the determination that partially hydrogenated fats are not safe and pose a public health risk. (29)

Despite the bans it is still possible to occasionally see products with "partially hydrogenated" ingredients. Be sure to check labels and avoid such products.

What Lifestyle Habits Help Lower Cholesterol?

  • Plant-based diets - Vegetarians have lower cholesterol levels than meat-eaters. Vegans have even lower levels still. They also have lower blood pressure, lower BMI, and a reduced overall risk of cardiovascular disease (30).
  • Mediterranean diet - If you are not ready to become vegetarian or vegan, following the Mediterranean diet pattern has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health (31,32). This diet includes plenty of plant foods, olive oil, plus fish and small amounts of (high quality, grass-fed) meat, dairy, and even a small glass of red wine.
  • Eat Cholesterol Lowering Foods - Foods that lower cholesterol include healthy fats, oat bran, flax seeds, garlic, almonds, walnuts, whole barley, and green tea.
  • Stay slim - Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. (13,14) Keeping your BMI at the lower end of the healthy range, at around 20 or 21 is best. See our list of foods to help you lose weight.
  • Exercise - Regular cardiovascular exercise, as the name suggests, is essential for keeping your heart healthy. Exercise can lower cholesterol, raise HDL ("good") cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. (15,16) A good goal is 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or 30 minutes 5 times per week.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods - As well as exercise, it is important not to be overly sedentary during the rest of the day. Sitting for long periods is detrimental to cardiovascular health. (33) Just getting up and walking around every hour (or even better every half hour) is beneficial (set an alarm while you get into the habit). Perform tasks standing instead of sitting whenever possible. For example, walk around while talking on the phone and try a standing desk if you have a desk job.
  • Avoid smoking - Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as many other health problems. (19) Smokers have a 70% higher risk for cardiovascular disease. (34)
  • Limit alcohol - A small glass of red wine may have some benefits, but drinking more than this increases your risk of cardiovascular and other health problems. (35)
  • Manage stress - Stress is another key risk factor for cardiovascular problems. (36) Stress can even increase blood cholesterol levels. (37) Stress relieving techniques such as exercise, yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises are beneficial. Also see the list of foods to relieve stress.
  • Consume Omega 3 Fats - Omega 3 Fats are typically found in fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and other foods. Studies show that consuming omega 3 fats is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. (38,39)
  • Use the ranking tool links below to select foods and create your own food list to share or print.

    View more nutrients with the nutrient ranking tool, or see ratios with the nutrient ratio tool.

    Data Sources and References

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    2. Backholer K, Peters SAE, Bots SH, Peeters A, Huxley RR, Woodward M. Total cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke in women compared with men: A systematic review and meta-analysis J Epidemiol Community Health. 2017 Jun;71(6):550-557. doi: 10.1136/jech-2016-207890. Epub 2016 Dec 14. 27974445
    3. Ghafoorunissa. Does Dietary Cholesterol Matter? Natl Med J India. 2009 May-Jun;22(3):126-32. 19764688
    4. Eckel RH. Dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Aug;102(2):235-6. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.116905. Epub 2015 Jul 15. 26178728
    5. Oliver MF. Dietary cholesterol, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease Hum Nutr Clin Nutr. 1982;36(6):413-27. 6298152
    6. Criqui MH, Wallace RB, Heiss G, Mishkel M, Schonfeld G, Jones GT. Cigarette smoking and plasma cholesterol Circulation. 1980 Nov;62(4 Pt 2):IV70-6. 7418146
    7. [No authors listed] Effect of a diet enriched with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids on levels of low-density and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in healthy women and men N Engl J Med. 1990 Feb 8;322(6):402-4. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199002083220612. 2300094
    8. Anderson JW, Story L, Sieling B, Chen WJ, Petro MS, Story J. Oat-bran intake selectively lowers serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations of hypercholesterolemic men Am J Clin Nutr. 1984 Dec;40(6):1146-55. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/40.6.1146. 6095635
    9. U.S.FDA - Daily Value on the New Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels
    10. Vrablík M, Vaclová M, Tichý L, Soška V, Bláha V, Fajkusová L, ?eška R, Šatný M, Freiberger T. Genetics of Familial Hypercholesterolemia: New Insights Physiol Res. 2017 Apr 5;66(Suppl 1):S1-S9. doi: 10.33549/physiolres.933600. 28379025
    11. Paththinige CS, Rajapakse JRDK, Constantine GR, Sem KP, Singaraja RR, Jayasekara RW, Dissanayake VHW. Genetic determinants of inherited susceptibility to hypercholesterolemia - a comprehensive literature review Lipids Health Dis. 2018 May 2;17(1):100. doi: 10.1186/s12944-018-0763-z. 29720182
    12. Hazzard WR. Cholesterol metabolism and aging Geriatrics. 1985 Jan;40(1):42-51, 54. 3965355
    13. Stamler J. Excess body weight. An underrecognized contributor to high blood cholesterol levels in white American men Arch Intern Med. 1993 May 10;153(9):1040-4. 8481071
    14. Swift DL, Houmard JA, Slentz CA, Kraus WE. Effects of weight loss in overweight/obese individuals and long-term lipid outcomes--a systematic review PLoS One. 2018 May 18;13(5):e0196637. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0196637. eCollection 2018. 29775461
    15. Crichton GE, Alkerwi A. Physical activity, sedentary behavior time and lipid levels in the Observation of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Luxembourg study PLoS One. 2014 Jun 12;9(6):e99829. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099829. eCollection 2014. 24925084
    16. Tambalis K, Panagiotakos DB, Kavouras SA, Sidossis LS. Differential effects of aerobic exercise, resistance training and combined exercise modalities on cholesterol and the lipid profile: review, synthesis and recommendations Angiology. 2009 Oct-Nov;60(5):614-32. doi: 10.1177/0003319708324927. Epub 2008 Oct 30. 18974201
    17. Bønaa KH, Arnesen E. Association between blood pressure and serum lipids in a population. The Tromsø Study Circulation. 1992 Aug;86(2):394-405. doi: 10.1161/01.cir.86.2.394. 1638708
    18. Holme I, Helgeland A, Hjermann I, Leren P, Lund-Larsen PG. The association between blood pressure and serum cholesterol in healthy men: the Oslo study Am J Epidemiol. 1980 Jul;112(1):149-60. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a112965. 7395850
    19. Cade J, Margetts B. Cigarette smoking and serum lipid and lipoprotein concentrations: an analysis of published data BMJ. 1989 May 13;298(6683):1312. doi: 10.1136/bmj.298.6683.1312-a. 2500214
    20. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Saturated Fat: Part of a Healthy Diet Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):502-9. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26285. Epub 2010 Jan 20. 20089734
    21. Toeller M, Buyken AE, Heitkamp G, Scherbaum WA, Krans HM, Fuller JH. Combined effects of saturated fat and cholesterol intakes on serum lipids: Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 1999;107(8):512-21. doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1232560. 10612482
    22. [No authors listed] Perspective: The Saturated Fat-Unsaturated Oil Dilemma: Relations of Dietary Fatty Acids and Serum Cholesterol, Atherosclerosis, Inflammation, Cancer, and All-Cause Mortality Adv Nutr. 2021 Oct 1;12(5):2040. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmab091. 34595505
    23. [No authors listed] Effect of a diet enriched with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids on levels of low-density and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in healthy women and men N Engl J Med. 1990 Feb 8;322(6):402-4. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199002083220612. 2300094
    24. Anderson JW, Story L, Sieling B, Chen WJ, Petro MS, Story J. Oat-bran intake selectively lowers serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations of hypercholesterolemic men Am J Clin Nutr. 1984 Dec;40(6):1146-55. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/40.6.1146. 6095635
    25. Lichtenstein AH, Erkkilä AT, Lamarche B, Schwab US, Jalbert SM, Ausman LM. Impact of hydrogenated fat on high density lipoprotein subfractions and metabolism Atherosclerosis. 2003 Nov;171(1):97-107. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2003.07.005. 14642411
    26. Holub BJ. Effects of different forms of dietary hydrogenated fats on serum lipoprotein cholesterol levels N Engl J Med. 1999 Oct 28;341(18):1396-7. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199910283411812. 10577089
    27. Mozaffarian D, Abdollahi M, Campos H, Houshiarrad A, Willett WC. [Trans-fatty acids--effects on coronary heart disease] Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Aug;61(8):1004-10. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602608. Epub 2007 Jan 31. 17268422
    28. Resnik D. Trans fat bans and human freedom Am J Bioeth. 2010 Mar;10(3):W4-5. doi: 10.1080/15265161003708557. 20229403
    29. U.S.FDA - Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Removing Trans Fat)
    30. Ros E. Plant-based diets and cardiovascular health Trends Cardiovasc Med. 2018 Oct;28(7):442-444. doi: 10.1016/j.tcm.2018.04.008. Epub 2018 May 9. 29793834
    31. Geisler BP. The Mediterranean diet, its components, and cardiovascular disease Am J Med. 2016 Jan;129(1):e11. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2015.04.046. 26703006
    32. Guasch-Ferré M, Salas-Salvadó J, Ros E, Estruch R, Corella D, Fitó M, Martínez-González MA; PREDIMED Investigators. The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2017 Jul;27(7):624-632. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2017.05.004. Epub 2017 Jun 10. 28684083
    33. Bellettiere J, LaMonte MJ, Evenson KR, Rillamas-Sun E, Kerr J, Lee IM, Di C, Rosenberg DE, Stefanick M, Buchner DM, Hovell MF, LaCroix AZ. Effect of Sedentary Lifestyle on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Among Healthy Adults With Body Mass Indexes 18.5 to 29.9 kg/m2 Circulation. 2019 Feb 19;139(8):1036-1046. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.035312. 31031411
    34. Carevi? V, Rumboldt M, Rumboldt Z; Interheart Investigators. Smoking and cardiovascular disease Acta Med Croatica. 2007 Jun;61(3):299-306. 17629106
    35. O'Keefe EL, DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH, Lavie CJ. Alcohol and cardiovascular health: the dose makes the poison…or the remedy Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2018 May-Jun;61(1):68-75. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2018.02.001. Epub 2018 Feb 16. 29458056
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    37. Wirtz PH, Ehlert U, Bärtschi C, Redwine LS, von Känel R. Acute cholesterol responses to mental stress and change in posture Metabolism. 2009 Jan;58(1):30-7. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.08.003. 19059528
    38. Zhang J, Cai A, Chen G, Wang X, Cai M, Li H, Nissen SE, Lip GYH, Lin H. Associations of habitual fish oil supplementation with cardiovascular outcomes and all cause mortality: evidence from a large population based cohort study Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2022 Oct 20;29(14):1911-1920. doi: 10.1093/eurjpc/zwac192. 36047058
    39. Lavie CJ, Milani RV, Mehra MR, Ventura HO. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in primary and secondary cardiovascular disease prevention J Am Coll Cardiol. 2009 Aug 11;54(7):585-94. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2009.02.084. 19660687
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