Medically reviewed on June 27, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Understanding proper nutrition can often feel like figuring out a mathematical equation. You must reach recommended targets for some foods, while also avoiding excess amounts of others—adding grams, calculating percentages, and ensuring you’re meeting your daily needs.
One area of nutritional calculation that some people may find particularly confusing is cholesterol.
Your body actually makes all of the cholesterol you need, so there isn’t a minimum amount you should consume in a day. However, there are dangers to consuming too much of the “bad” type of cholesterol.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you should know about cholesterol level monitoring and your diet.
Cholesterol is a thick, wax-like substance produced in your liver. Your body needs it to perform certain daily functions. However, you can also get cholesterol from the foods you eat—particularly animal products.
When you eat foods containing cholesterol, you can consume one of two types: LDL or HDL .
Cholesterol is important to many of your body’s essential functions. The amount of cholesterol your body produces naturally is generally enough to handle these functions.
Among these tasks are :
Calculating how much cholesterol per day is appropriate for your body is a little complicated. In the past, the USDA has suggested a limit of 200 mg of cholesterol per day for those at risk of coronary heart disease and no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day for those not at increased cardiovascular disease risk .
For reference, one large egg has 186 mg of cholesterol while 6 oz. of skinless chicken breast contains 124 mg of cholesterol. Eating one egg and one chicken breast would push most people past the recommended daily allowance.
In recent years, ideal daily cholesterol intake has shifted away from an exact number amount. Instead, the 2020 to 2025 federal dietary guidelines state: “The National Academies recommends that trans fat and dietary cholesterol consumption to be as low as possible without compromising the nutritional adequacy of the diet" .
To help you better understand, let’s break down how fats and cholesterol are related.
Trans fats are artificially produced fats that occur when food producers add hydrogen to vegetable oils. This process makes the oil more solid. Many food manufacturers love this process because :
Unfortunately, what’s good for food producers’ bottom lines isn’t necessarily good for your health. Trans fat consumption is linked to elevated LDL levels and lowered HDL levels.
Saturated fats are another culprit behind elevated LDL levels and heart disease . These fats are primarily found in animal products such as:
Saturated fats are also present in oils that are solid at room temperatures, such as palm and coconut oils. Many highly processed baked goods and snacks contain saturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get no more than 5 percent of their daily calories from saturated fats.
This means if you’re a moderately active adult who eats about 2,200 calories per day, no more than 110 of those calories should be saturated fat intake.
Not all fats are created equally. Some fats are essential and even beneficial for your health. Your body needs certain types of fat for energy, nutrient absorption, and cellular function. Therefore, eating foods rich in the following fats can provide health benefits:
Eating healthy fats in moderation can help keep your body running smoothly without pushing your LDL levels to unhealthy heights.
Although the USDA no longer sets a specific number for cholesterol limits, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to be cognizant of how much cholesterol is in the food you eat. Choosing foods packed with unhealthy fats and cholesterol may result in high cholesterol levels and may lead to serious health problems down the line.
In fact, elevated cholesterol levels are linked to:
A diet comprised of too many high cholesterol foods may also lead to obesity and its accompanying health issues.
Foods that increase LDL and contribute to high cholesterol problems typically come from animal sources. This includes foods such as:
Fortunately, you’re able to replace most of these foods with healthier alternatives. Knowing the difference between VLDL vs. LDL cholesterol is also important, as they are both key factors that contribute to high cholesterol levels.
There are many tasty and nutritious foods you can consume that’ll help boost your HDL levels and keep LDL under control. Some options include:
Outside of fatty fish, which are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, these foods are all plant-based.
Another characteristic generally shared by many cholesterol managing foods is that they’re high in fiber, and soluble dietary fiber can help prevent high cholesterol . This is because fiber binds with cholesterol molecules and prevents your body from absorbing LDL. So, eating a diet rich in foods with soluble fiber is a potent weapon against high cholesterol.
If you do have high cholesterol, and are wondering how to keep your heart healthy, you can still change your health for the better. Addressing your diet is the first key. Cutting down on or eliminating foods high in trans and saturated fats can help limit the amount of excess cholesterol your body must eliminate.
Along with incorporating heart healthy foods in your diet, there are other changes you can make to help lower your bad cholesterol, including :
Along with these changes, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to help you better manage your cholesterol.
In the past, the USDA has recommended a limit of between 200 to 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day. However, more recent guidance has shifted away from a specific number. Instead, individuals should strive to limit the amount of saturated and trans fats in their diets to keep unhealthy cholesterol levels at bay.
If you’re interested in understanding your nutrition better and improving your health, start by getting your cholesterol tested. A test will provide you with information about your current cholesterol levels so that you can devise the most effective plan for positive change.
That’s why the team at Everlywell has created our Heart Health Test. This convenient, at-home test kit allows you to gain insight into your heart health and take some of the mystery out of heart disease prevention. So, check in on your heart health by checking out Everlywell’s at-home test kits.
Foods that increase LDL cholesterol
VLDL vs. LDL: Understanding the differences
Understanding the keto diet and cholesterol
1. CDC. LDL and HDL Cholesterol: Bad and Good Cholesterol. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.
2. PubMed. New Insights into Cholesterol Functions: A Friend of Enemy? URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.
3. US Department of Health and Human Services. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. American Heart Association. New Federal Guidelines May Lift Dietary Cholesterol Limits. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.
4. American Heart Association. Trans Fats. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.
5. American Heart Association. Saturated Fats. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.
6. PubMed. Cholesterol-lowering Effects of DIetary FIber. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.
7. PubMed. Lifestyle Changes: Effect of Diet, Exercise, Functional Food, and Obesity Treatment on Lipids and Lipoproteins. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.