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Healthy Foods That Are High in Cholesterol

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 15, 2021

If you’re watching your cholesterol, you’re probably wary of foods known to be high in it. Some foods do earn cholesterol red flags -- think high-fat treats, meats high in saturated fats, and foods deep-fried in oil.

All cholesterol isn’t equal, though. One type, LDL (low-density lipoprotein), clings to your arteries, but another -- HDL, or high-density lipoprotein -- absorbs the waxy substance and carries it to your liver, which knows how to process it.

A high-cholesterol dish is healthier when it’s low in saturated fat. Experts say sometimes curbing your saturated fat intake can have the same effect -- even work better -- than cutting all cholesterol.

Here are some foods to focus on:

Eggs

They clock high in cholesterol -- one large scrambled egg has 169 milligrams, more than half the RDA of 300 milligrams. If high cholesterol runs in your family, doctors typically advise you to aim for 200 milligrams.

But eggs are also chock-full of vitamins, iron, and protein. They’re also low in saturated fat. Three to four whole eggs a week should be OK. It’s the yolk that’s tricky. Egg whites will give you protein without any cholesterol.

Sardines

A can of sardines in oil contains a whopping 131 milligrams of cholesterol. But it makes the American Heart Association’s healthy cholesterol guide -- in moderation. Two 4-ounce servings a week is a good rule of thumb.

The magic in sardines is in the omega-3s, which your body doesn’t make itself. These fatty acids help keep your triglycerides -- a fat in your blood that can be bad for your heart in large amounts -- in check.

Shellfish

Shrimp are notably high in cholesterol. You’ll take in about 130 milligrams if you eat 12 large shrimp. But at only 2 grams of fat, shrimp are plump with B vitamins, protein, and the nutrients selenium and zinc. Check with your doctor, but you can likely enjoy them once or twice a week. Shrimp also boast high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, which raise HDL levels.

Other shellfish in the low-fat club -- with less cholesterol than shrimp -- include crab and octopus. Still better are clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops, which are low-cholesterol and low-fat both.

Lean Meats

Compared to shrimp, it might seem like ground beef, at 110 milligrams of cholesterol, would be the better choice. But when you consider the 20 grams of fat -- including a hefty 10 grams of saturated fat -- in the beef, red meat falls short big-time. But trim all the fat, including the marbling, from a cut of beef, and you have just 45 milligrams of cholesterol in a 4-ounce serving.

Steer away from fatty steak, roasts, and regular ground beef. Instead, choose 90% lean ground beef and leaner cuts: filet, flank steak, sirloin, tenderloin. Even better: skinless baked chicken or lean ground poultry meat.

Some sources claim beef from grass-fed cattle is lower in cholesterol than conventionally raised grain-fed cattle. But a Texas Tech University study showed when the fat content is the same, there’s no difference in cholesterol levels between the two.

That said, ground beef from grass-fed cattle has three times the omega-3 fatty acids grain-fed options do. But along with that omega-3 boost comes more saturated and trans fat.

You Can Splurge Sometimes

If your nutrition choices skew healthy most of the time, you can still enjoy a yummy high-cholesterol food -- the kind without all the perks -- as a treat sometimes. Just don’t indulge every day, specialists say. The key is moderation.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “High Cholesterol Foods to Eat and Avoid.”

Mayo Clinic: “High Cholesterol,” “Triglycerides: Why Do They Matter?”

CDC: “LDL and HDL Cholesterol: ‘Bad’ and ‘Good’ Cholesterol.”

American Heart Association: “Making Sense of Cholesterol -- the Good, the Bad and the Dietary,” “My Cholesterol Guide.”

Heart UK: “Can I Eat Eggs?” “High Cholesterol Food.”

Global Aquaculture Alliance: “Facts About Shrimp and Cholesterol.”

Texas A&M Department of Animal Science: “Ground Beef From Grass-Fed and Grain-Fed Cattle: Does it Matter?”

USDA.

National Jewish Health: “High Cholesterol: Lifestyle Management.”

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