Cholesterol & Cholesterol Fighting Foods   CLICK ON PHOTO TO ENLARGE

Cholesterol is an interesting topic because it is so confusing! Or maybe I should say, complex. From all the research & studies done recently, we now know that the intake of cholesterol through diet minimally affects your cholesterol numbers. According to the research very little of it enters your circulating blood. That is why eggs & bacon are back, in moderation. 

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is necessary in the human body for producing hormones, bile acids, & building cell walls. It is manufactured by your body, mainly by your liver, & circulates in your blood. Your body produces 75% of your cholesterol. This is the cholesterol that is measured in blood tests. 

First, lets look at what the cholesterol numbers on your test should look like. Then lets look at the foods that do affect your cholesterol numbers & last what foods will lower those numbers. 

According to Vishal Rao, M.D., M.P.H. and Erin Michos, M.D., M.H.S with John Hopkins University School of Medicine: “Ideally, total cholesterol should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter. HDL cholesterol should be above 40 milligrams per deciliter for men and above 50 milligrams per deciliter for women. LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 milligrams per deciliter, and triglycerides ideally should be less than 150 milligrams per deciliter. Keep in mind that treatment goals can vary based on each individual. You should discuss your cholesterol levels with your physician.”

Here is an excerpt from the Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020: Do I still need to watch my cholesterol intake?  “While adequate evidence is not available for a quantitative limit for dietary cholesterol in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, cholesterol is still important to consider when building a healthy eating style. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines states that people should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.

In general, foods that are higher in dietary cholesterol, such as fatty meats and high-fat dairy products, are also higher in saturated fats (which should be limited to 10% of total calories per day). The primary healthy eating style described in the Dietary Guidelines is limited in saturated fats, and thus, dietary cholesterol (about 100-300 mg across the various calorie levels). It is the saturated fats & the trans-fats that raise your blood cholesterol. So, if you limit the saturated fats to 10% of your daily calories & eliminate the trans-fats you will lower your total cholesterol number.

Mayo Clinic 2016: The recommended daily limits on cholesterol in your food 

  • If you are healthy, consume no more than 300 mg of cholesterol a day.
  • If you have diabetes, high cholesterol or heart disease, limit the daily cholesterol intake to no more than 200 mg a day.

This is a very useful graph to help you understand where the cholesterol is in foods & the amount per serving.  From UCSF Medical Center: Cholesterol Content of Foods  If you have risk factors for heart disease, you should not consume more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day. If you do not have risk factors for heart disease, you should limit your cholesterol intake to no more than 300 milligrams a day. Note that this is the same recommendation from the Mayo Clinic.

Use the following tables to check the cholesterol and fat content of the foods you eat. This will help you keep track of your daily cholesterol intake.

Note: Cholesterol is only found in animal products. Fruits, vegetables, grains and all other plant foods do not have any cholesterol at all.

Dairy Products Portion Cholesterol (mg) Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g)
Milk (non-fat) 1 cup 4 0 0
Milk (low-fat) 1 cup 10 3 2
Milk (whole) 1 cup 33 8 5
Yogurt (non-fat) 1 cup 10 0 0
Yogurt (whole) 1 cup 29 7 5
Cheddar Cheese 1 oz 30 9 6
Cottage Cheese (low-fat) 1 cup 10 2 2


Fats Portion Cholesterol (mg) Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g)
Butter 1 tsp 11 4 3
Margarine 1 tsp 0 4 1
Vegetable Oils                   1 tsp 0 5 1 – 2


Meats & Protein Portion Cholesterol (mg) Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g)
Tofu 1/2 cup 0 11 2
Pinto beans 1/2 cup 0 1 0
Egg *** 1 212 5 2
Halibut 3 ½ oz 41 3 0
Salmon 3 ½ oz 63 12 2
Oysters 3 ½ oz 55 2 1
Crab 3 ½ oz 52 1 0
Lobster 3 ½ oz 71 1 0
Tuna (in water) 3 ½ oz 30 1 0
Shrimp 3 ½ oz 194 1 0
Squid 3 ½ oz 231 1 0
Beef (ground, lean)          3 ½ oz 78 18 7
Beef (short ribs) 3 ½ oz 94 42 18
Beef (sirloin) 3 ½ oz 89 12 5
Beef Liver 3 ½ oz 389 5 2
Veal (top round) 3 ½ oz 135 5 2
Lamb (foreshank) 3 ½ oz 106 14 6
Ham 3 ½ oz 53 6 2
Pork (tenderloin) 3 ½ oz 79 6 2
Pork (chop) 3 ½ oz 85 25 10
Chicken Liver 3 ½ oz 631 6 2
Chicken (no skin) 3 ½ oz 85 5 1

***Cholesterol is in the egg yolk. Egg white is just protein, no cholesterol. 

What foods lower blood cholesterol & why? Harvard Health Publications from its Medical School: 11 Foods That Lower Cholesterol Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation. Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL. And some contain plant sterols and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.”

1. Oats. An easy first step to improving your cholesterol is having a bowl of oatmeal or cold oat-based cereal like Cheerios for breakfast. It gives you 1 to 2 grams of soluble fiber. Add a banana or some strawberries for another half-gram. Current nutrition guidelines recommend getting 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day, with at least 5 to 10 grams coming from soluble fiber. (The average American gets about half that amount.) Original Cheerios contain 3 grams of fiber & 1 gram of sugar per 1 cup serving. There are other high fiber, low sugar cereals on the market. Check the labels!

2. Barley and other whole grains. Like oats and oat bran, barley and other whole grains can help lower the risk of heart disease, mainly via the soluble fiber they deliver. Whole grains!

3. Beans. Beans are especially rich in soluble fiber. They also take awhile for the body to digest, meaning you feel full for longer after a meal. That’s one reason beans are a useful food for folks trying to lose weight. With so many choices — from navy and kidney beans to lentils, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, and beyond — and so many ways to prepare them, beans are a very versatile food. My favorite right now is the 13 Bean mixture. You get a bit of every bean.

4. Eggplant and okra. These two low-calorie vegetables are good sources of soluble fiber. Roasted eggplant last night. Can’t get enough. Okra is quite good if you prepare it correctly. Give it a try.

5. Nuts. A bushel of studies shows that eating almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and other nuts is good for the heart. Eating 2 ounces of nuts a day can slightly lower LDL, on the order of 5%. Nuts have additional nutrients that protect the heart in other ways. Hand full not a can full.

6. Vegetable oils. Using liquid vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, safflower, and others in place of butter, lard, or shortening when cooking or at the table helps lower LDL. Olive oil is the best choice. Coconut oil has 12 grams of saturated fat. Use it in moderation.

7. Apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits. These fruits are rich in pectin, a type of soluble fiber that lowers LDL.

8. Foods fortified with sterols and stanols. Sterols and stanols extracted from plants gum up the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol from food. Companies are adding them to foods ranging from margarine and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate. They’re also available as supplements. Getting 2 grams of plant sterols or stanols a day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%. I would check the label if you decide to eat margarine, granola bars, orange juice & chocolate. Look at the sugar, saturated fats & trans-fats on the nutrition facts. Also check the ingredient list!

9. Soy. Eating soybeans and foods made from them, like tofu and soy milk, was once touted as a powerful way to lower cholesterol. Analyses show that the effect is more modest — consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day (10 ounces of tofu or 2 1/2 cups of soy milk) can lower LDL by 5% to 6%.

10. Fatty fish. Eating fish two or three times a week can lower LDL in two ways: by replacing meat, which has LDL-boosting saturated fats, and by delivering LDL-lowering omega-3 fats. Omega-3s reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and also protect the heart by helping prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms.

11. Fiber supplements. Supplements offer the least appealing way to get soluble fiber. Two teaspoons a day of psyllium, which is found in Metamucil and other bulk-forming laxatives, provide about 4 grams of soluble fiber. Rarely a good choice. Better to eat the foods high in fiber.

Eating Well’s article, 10 Foods That Lower Cholesterol  included the following in their list…

  • Cholesterol & Avocado: Who doesn’t love avocados? They not only taste amazing but also can help lower your cholesterol. Avocados are high in healthy monounsaturated fat, which helps lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. They also contain fiber, antioxidants and phytosterols, such as beta-sitosterol, which have also been shown to lower cholesterol. Don’t hog the entire bowl of guacamole, though! One serving is just a quarter of a Hass avocado, which delivers 57 calories. Spread a few slices of avocado on your sandwich instead of mayo, or dip some veggies into a bowl of fresh guacamole.
  • Cholesterol & Dark Chocolate: Chocolate fans rejoice! You might have heard that chocolate is good for you, and it’s true. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain powerful antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, which help lower cholesterol. Milk chocolate has less cocoa solids, and thus lower flavonoid levels, and white chocolate is even lower in the good stuff. Reach for small portions of dark chocolate, preferably with a high cocoa content. Or try a sprinkle of cocoa powder in your smoothie or on yogurt to reap chocolate’s cholesterol-lowering benefits. 70% or higher is recommended.
  • Cholesterol & Kimchi: Kimchi, a Korean fermented side dish commonly made from cabbage, radish or cucumber, is quickly gaining a following for its many health benefits. Kimchi is high in fiber and—because it’s fermented—is loaded with good bacteria that help keep your gut healthy. Kimchi contains bioactive compounds that lower cholesterol by blocking cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. The good bacteria produced during fermentation also help lower cholesterol. Kimchi and sauerkraut are usually pretty high in sodium, so watch your portions if you’re watching your salt intake.
  • Cholesterol & Garlic: Garlic packs a serious health punch. Some people love the flavor and others have been using it as a kitchen cure to boost immunity and promote heart health for years. Recent research has backed garlic’s health benefits, especially for your heart. Garlic, along with garlic extract, has been shown to lower cholesterol, possibly by preventing cholesterol from being made in the liver. Plus, eating garlic may also help lower blood pressure. Give your heart a boost and add garlic to your sauces, salad dressings and stir-fries.

WebMD has a good article: Your Heart-Healthy Grocery Shopping List It is a printable list of all the heart healthy & cholesterol lowering foods to stock in your pantry. Healthy eating starts with having the right heart-healthy foods in your kitchen. They help lower cholesterol and keep your blood pressure in check. If you aren’t sure which foods to buy, print this list to take to the supermarket.

This link is to Mayo Clinic’s, High Cholesterol: Self Management Well worth the read. It lists “lifestyle & home remedies”. 

I like the information in this article by Dr. Mercola: Cholesterol Myths You Need to Stop Believing I am not a Mercola fan, but he does write factual articles about health topics. When you read this article be sure to read the section, ‘How to Protect Your Heart Health’. It has very good tips.

If you are interested in statistics then this is the site for you. CDC, Center for Disease Control & Prevention: Cholesterol Fact Sheet. The other page on the CDC website you may enjoy is: CDC: High Cholesterol Facts   This page has more facts about the state of our cholesterol health in the USA.

I trust that this has cleared up the confusion surrounding cholesterol. The focus now should be on incorporating cholesterol lowering foods into your diet. If you are following a vegetarian, vegan, or the Mediterranean or DASH diets, you already do. 

Until next week…Mary 🙂