Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body needs to make skin oils, digestive juices, hormones and vitamin D. Your body can make some cholesterol, but you also get it from food. In fact, it's so abundant in food that most people take in too much of it, which eventually puts them at risk for heart disease and stroke. Lower your cholesterol intake to maintain good health.
The Institute of Medicine recommends limiting your intake of cholesterol to no more than 200 milligrams a day. To get an idea of how much cholesterol that is, one scrambled egg has 169 milligrams of cholesterol. Two slices of Swiss cheese have 52 milligrams, and a 3-ounce serving of steamed shrimp has 179 milligrams. If you partake in the typical American diet, it may be difficult to stay within the recommended range, as cholesterol is in dairy products, fried food, seafood and meat.
Not surprisingly, the average American woman takes in too much cholesterol each day. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2009 report, "What We Eat in America," women in their 20s get an average of 238 milligrams of cholesterol daily, while women in their 30s take in about 228 milligrams a day.
Other things you take in, such as saturated fat, can raise your LDL cholesterol levels. To prevent high blood cholesterol, it isn't enough simply to avoid eating high-cholesterol foods. The average woman takes in about 22 grams of saturated fat per day. The IOM hasn't set a specific limit on saturated fat -- it recommends that you simply avoid it. Animal products and fried food are high in saturated fat. Nuts, seeds and legumes have smaller amounts of saturated fat, along with larger amounts of healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
If you are changing your diet to correct years of taking in too much cholesterol, you can do more than just limit your intake of cholesterol and saturated fat. The Cleveland Clinic recommends increasing intake of soluble fiber. Oatmeal, beans, apples, barley, pears and prunes are all rich in soluble fiber. Regular cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling, can also help keep your numbers low, as can quitting smoking and keeping your weight and your blood pressure at optimal levels.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Percentages of Energy from Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat, and Alcohol, by Gender and Age, in the United States
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes -- Macronutrients
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Eggs, Whole, Scrambled
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Cheese, Swiss
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Shrimp, Steamed
- Cleveland Clinic: Cholesterol Guidelines
Maia Appleby is a NASM-certified personal trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry. Her articles have been published in a wide variety of print magazines and online publications, including the Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, New Moon Network and Bodybuilding.com.