9 foods that are high in cholesterol — and why cholesterol isn't as dangerous as we used to believe

9 foods that are high in cholesterol — and why cholesterol isn't as dangerous as we used to believe
Eggs and certain meats are high in cholesterol, but that doesn't mean that you should avoid them.Stepanek Photography/Shutterstock
  • High cholesterol foods include eggs, processed meat, shellfish, pastries, organ meat, and more.
  • But not all of these foods are bad for you — it's really the saturated fat that may make them unhealthy.
  • Food like salmon, eggs, and dairy products are full of nutrients despite their high cholesterol.

Cholesterol used to be the villain when it came to heart disease. But research indicates that it's not cholesterol that's the culprit.

In fact, there are many high cholesterol foods like eggs and lobster that are perfectly healthy to eat on the regular.

What you need to watch out for is foods high in saturated or trans fats, as these have been shown to boost the level of LDL cholesterol — aka "bad cholesterol" — in your blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Note: There's no limit on daily cholesterol. But a healthy adult should avoid trans fat entirely and keep saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of their total calories. For a 2,000 calorie diet that equates to 22 grams.

To help you navigate the grocery aisle, here's nine high cholesterol food groups and how to tell if they're healthy or should be avoided.


1. Red meat

Red meat, including beef, lamb, venison, and mutton, can have high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat.

For example, a 4 oz serving of ground beef made of 80% lean meat has 80.2 mg of cholesterol and nearly 8 grams of saturated fat.

You don't have to swear off red meat entirely since it can provide key nutrients like iron and zinc. Just try to limit it to no more than 70 grams per day and stick to whole meat, like steak, over-processed meat, like bacon.

2. Eggs

One whole egg contains about 207 mg of cholesterol but only 1.61 grams of saturated fat — all of which is in the egg's yolk.

"Eggs should be consumed whole, as the yolk also contains important nutrients like vitamin D," says Paula Doebrich, RDN, founder of private nutrition practice Happea Nutrition.


Moreover, egg yolks are naturally high in HDL cholesterol, the "good" kind of cholesterol that transports LDLout of your body.

The American Heart Association suggests that it is healthy to eat one egg or two egg whites per day as part of a balanced diet.

3. Processed meat

Processed meats like sausages, bacon, and hot dogs are all high cholesterol foods that are also high in saturated fat.

For example, three strips of pan-fried bacon have 27 mg of cholesterol and 3.3 g saturated fat, and one pan-fried Italian sausage link packs 69.3 mg of cholesterol and 7.92 g saturated fat.

"If you can't imagine life without bacon, try turkey or Canadian bacon which are lower in saturated fat," Doebrich says.


Three strips of turkey bacon have 1.95 g saturated fat, about 40% less than regular bacon.

4. Dairy products

Cholesterol and saturated fat are found in dairy products including cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, and whole fat milk.

One cup of cheddar cheese has 105 mg of cholesterol and 20 g of saturated fat, while one tablespoon of butter contains about 31 mg of cholesterol and 7 g of saturated fat

Certain full-fat dairy products like cheese are far from all bad because they also contain protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.

Meanwhile, fermented dairy products like yogurt are loaded with probiotics that can benefit your gut health.


5. Pastries

Pastries like doughnuts, croissants, cookies, and cakes are often made with dairy products, butter, oil, and eggs — all sources of cholesterol and saturated fat.

One glazed chocolate doughnut has about 24 mg of cholesterol and 2.16 g of saturated fat, while a piece of yellow cake with vanilla frosting contains 50 mg of cholesterol and 2.94 g of saturated fat

Pastries are also loaded with added sugar — which has been linked to chronic health conditions like weight gain, diabetes, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and fatty liver disease.

6. Fried foods

Fried foods like deep-fried chicken and mozzarella sticks are high in cholesterol and calories, as well as laden with saturated and trans fats.

A 130 g piece of fried chicken contains 113 mg of cholesterol and 4.3 g of saturated fat, while one serving of fried mozzarella sticks has 88 mg of cholesterol and 15 g of saturated fat.


"Fried foods can be enjoyed in moderation. The type of frying method and frying oil matters," Doebrich says. "Foods fried in small amounts of healthy oils, such as olive or avocado oil, are better than foods that were deep fried in processed vegetable oil."

7. Shellfish

Shrimp, lobster, clams, and crayfish tend to be high in cholesterol — but that doesn't mean they're off the table. Unlike some other high cholesterol foods, shellfish are super low in saturated fat.

A 3 oz serving of cooked shrimp contains 161 mg of cholesterol and only 0.048 g of saturated fat, while a 3 oz serving of lobster contains 124 mg and 0.208 g of saturated fat. In comparison, a 3 oz serving of steak has 68 grams of cholesterol and 3.9 grams of saturated fat.

Of course, it's popular to serve shellfish like shrimp and lobster with butter and creamy sauces, which can kick up the saturated fat content. So be aware of what you're eating with your shellfish. Instead of butter, opt for fresh lemon juice and savory herbs.

8. Organ meat

Organ meats are high in cholesterol but relatively low in saturated fat.


One 44 g serving of chicken liver serves up 152 mg of cholesterol and 1.56 g of saturated fat, while a 4 oz serving of lamb kidneys has 381 mg and 1.04 grams of saturated fat.

Still, organ meats like liver, heart, and kidneys are also packed with nutrients containing high levels of B-vitamins as well as minerals like iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.

9. Salmon

A 0.5 oz fillet of Atlantic salmon has 109 mg of cholesterol and 6.04 g of saturated fat. Despite the high saturated fat content, adding this fish to your diet could actually help lower your risk of heart disease.

Salmon is packed with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce blood triglycerides (a type of fat found in blood and linked to heart disease and stroke) as well as your risk of developing an irregular heartbeat.

Insider's takeaway

Cholesterol has always had a bad reputation, but researchers now know that the saturated and trans fats found in high-cholesterol foods are the real cause for concern.


Most importantly, not all high cholesterol foods are created equally. Some, like seafood, dairy products, and eggs are rich in macro and micronutrients that are good for your health despite being high in cholesterol, while others like fried foods and pastries should only be eaten in moderation.