High cholesterol is a major risk factor for the development of heart disease, the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Although your body needs cholesterol, it produces enough to meet its own needs. Eating foods containing high cholesterol increases the amount of cholesterol in your blood and promotes atherosclerosis – the accumulation of fat and cholesterol along the walls of the arteries.
What is Considered High?
Every food derived from an animal, including eggs and dairy products, contains cholesterol. Nutrition labels list the amount of cholesterol per serving, but there is no specification on the amount of cholesterol a food must have to be classified as a high-cholesterol food. The American Heart Association recommends healthy adults limit their dietary cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day. Those with high blood cholesterol or with heart disease should further limit their intake to less than 200 milligrams per day.
One large egg contains about 186 milligrams of cholesterol, nearly the daily amount for someone with heart disease risks. This does not mean you must remove eggs from your diet. If you choose to eat an egg, try to limit other sources of cholesterol that day. In addition, since the yolk contains all of the cholesterol, you can eat just the whites instead of the whole egg to limit your cholesterol intake.
Meat, including beef, veal, lamb, pork and chicken, contains cholesterol. Because the liver of the animal produces the majority of the cholesterol, it contains high cholesterol levels. A 3.5-ounce serving of beef liver contains 389 milligrams of cholesterol and the same serving size of chicken liver contains 631 milligrams of cholesterol. Each 3.5-ounce serving of lean ground beef provides 78 milligrams of cholesterol to your diet while skinless chicken contains 85 milligrams. Ham contains the least amount of cholesterol of the meats, with 53 milligrams in a 3.5-ounce serving.
Milk and other dairy products like yogurt and cheese contribute cholesterol to your daily intake. Whole milk contains the highest cholesterol, with 33 milligrams per 8-ounce serving. Removing the fat to create a low-fat or fat-free milk also removes some of the cholesterol. For example, an 8-ounce serving of fat-free milk contains only 4 milligrams of cholesterol. An 8-ounce serving of whole yogurt provides 29 milligrams, and a 1-ounce serving of cheese contains 30 milligrams of cholesterol.
Animals from the sea also contain cholesterol. The seafood with the highest amounts of cholesterol include shrimp, with 194 milligrams per 3.5-ounce serving, and squid, with 231 milligrams per 3.5-ounce serving. Caviar, or salt-cured fish eggs, also contains high cholesterol with 167 milligrams per 1-ounce serving.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Heart Disease
- Harvard Health Publications: Understanding Cholesterol
- National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease: Women & Heart Disease Fact Sheet
- University of California San Francisco: Cholesterol Content of Foods
- American Heart Association: What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: What is Atherosclerosis
- Mayo Clinic: Are Chicken Eggs Good or Bad for my Cholesterol?
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Fish, Caviar, Red and Black, Granular
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