Foods to avoid and include

The liver naturally makes cholesterol, which travels through the body with the help of proteins in the bloodstream. Cholesterol is an essential building block for cell membranes.

In addition to its cell-building role, cholesterol is necessary for the production of hormones, vitamin D and substances that work to digest fatty foods.

However, a person’s lifestyle and genetics can cause the body to produce too much cholesterol. When cholesterol builds up in the arteries, it can block blood flow, which can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

Following a nutritious, balanced diet is one way to help moderate cholesterol levels.

This article describes the relationship between cholesterol and fats, looks at which foods have high cholesterol, and explores some dietary changes a person can make to lower their cholesterol levels.

There are two types of cholesterol that differ depending on the type of protein that carries them through the bloodstream. They are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

LDLs deposit one type of cholesterol throughout the body. This kind of cholesterol can build up into blood vessels and lead to serious complications. People often refer to this as “bad” cholesterol.

HDLs, on the other hand, collect LDL cholesterol from the arteries and return it to the liver for disposal. For this reason, people often refer to HDL cholesterol as “good” cholesterol.

Read more about the differences between LDL and HDL cholesterol here.

It is worth noting that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020 removed the recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams per day. The most recent understanding is that the cholesterol content of different foods little to no influence on blood cholesterol levels.

While avoiding high-cholesterol foods may still be beneficial for some people, it may not be practical for everyone.

Instead, the American Heart Association (AHA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest prioritizing unsaturated fats over saturated and trans fats as the most effective dietary approach to lowering blood cholesterol levels.

Types of fat

In general, people should aim for a diet that promotes low LDL cholesterol and high HDL cholesterol. Fat absorption affects this balance because fatty acids bind to liver cells and regulate cholesterol production.

People should pay attention not only to the total amount of fat in their diet, but also to where this fat comes from.

  • Saturated fats: This one usually occur in meat and dairy products. They instruct the liver to make more LDL cholesterol.
  • Unsaturated fats: These are more common in fish, plants, nuts, seeds, beans and vegetable oils. Certain unsaturated fats can help increase the rate at which the liver reabsorbs and breaks down LDL cholesterol.
  • Trans fats: These are solid vegetable oils. Manufacturers normally use an artificial process called hydrogenation to produce them. Fried foods, baked goods, and packaged foods often contain trans fats.

Read more about the different types of fats here.

Trans fats

Trans fats increase levels of LDL cholesterol and lowering the levels of HDL cholesterol. For this reason, a high intake of trans fat is also a risk factor for a range of health complications.

A 2015 literature review found that a 2% increase in energy intake from trans fats is associated with a 25% increased risk of coronary heart disease and a 31% increased risk of death from the condition.

Researchers have also found links between increased trans fat intake and increased all-cause mortality in the United States and China.

A ban on trans fat content in foodstuffs has proven positive. A 2017 study revealed a 6.2% reducing hospitalizations for heart attack and stroke in New York counties with a ban on trans fats.

The AHA recommends reducing saturated fat intake no more than 6% of one’s total daily calories.

It suggests limiting intake of the following foods to achieve this:

  • fatty beef
  • lamb
  • pork
  • poultry with skin
  • lard and shortening
  • dairy products made from whole or skimmed milk
  • saturated vegetable oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil

Avoiding trans fats is also important. Some foods are high in trans fats Involving:

  • packaged cookies, cakes, donuts and pastries
  • potato chips and crackers
  • commercial fried foods
  • bakery products containing shortening
  • buttered popcorn
  • products containing partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils

Cholesterol in foods

The bloodstream absorbs dietary cholesterol poorly and has little effect on cholesterol levels after a few hours.

A person may want to avoid the following foods because of their saturated fat and sodium content:

  • Red meat
  • sausages
  • bacon
  • organ meats, such as kidney and liver

Read more about which foods can help lower cholesterol here.

It is important to note that following a completely fat-free diet can have harmful effects. For example, cutting out fats can harm children’s development and brain function, according to an older study.

Choosing healthy fats can help a person lower their LDL cholesterol levels while also controlling their HDL cholesterol levels.


Fiber is important for a healthy heart and is present in two main forms: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.

Insoluble fiber is essential for healthy digestion. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in the bloodstream and helps to remove it through the stool. This type of fiber has the added benefit of helping to control blood sugar levels.

Some cholesterol-friendly fiber options to consider include:

  • nuts, seeds and legumes
  • oats and oat bran
  • chia and ground flax seeds
  • beans
  • barley
  • psyllium
  • oranges
  • blueberries
  • Brussels sprouts

Non-tropical natural vegetable oils are also cholesterol-friendly due to their unsaturated fatty acid content. These oils include olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, and safflower oil.

People may also find it beneficial to choose lean cuts of meat, choose smaller portions, and choose low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt.

Specific cooking methods can change the saturated fat content of a meal. Some simple adjustments to cooking routines include:

  • using a rack to drain fat when broiling, broiling, or baking poultry or meat
  • using wine instead of fat drops to baste meat
  • roasting or grilling meat instead of frying it in a pan
  • before cooking trim all visible fat from meat and remove skin from poultry
  • skimming off the top layer of congealed fat after the soup has cooled

Combining these cholesterol-lowering techniques with a balanced, plant-based diet and sustainable exercise routine can reduce the risk of heart disease and promote a healthier life.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that the body produces in optimal amounts. Limiting foods that contain trans and unsaturated fats can help effective way of controlling one’s cholesterol level.

Foods high in cholesterol and these types of fats include red meat, poultry with skin, and full-fat dairy products.

Consuming a healthy diet rich in fiber, whole fruits and vegetables, and lean sources of protein can help a person maintain optimal cholesterol levels and promote overall health.

Foods to avoid and include

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