Avoiding certain foods may help a person manage their cholesterol levels. These include red meats, organ meats, and foods high in saturated and trans fats.

The liver naturally creates cholesterol, which travels throughout the body using proteins in the bloodstream. Cholesterol is an essential building block for cell membranes.

Alongside its cell building role, cholesterol is necessary for producing 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 details the relationship between cholesterol and fats, looks at which foods have a high cholesterol content, and explores some dietary changes a person can make to lower their cholesterol levels.

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There are two types of cholesterol that differ depending on the type of protein that transports 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 in 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 bring it back to the liver for disposal. For this reason, people often refer to HDL cholesterol as “good” cholesterol.

Learn 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 has little to no impact on blood cholesterol levels.

Although avoiding foods with high cholesterol content 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 cutting blood cholesterol.

Types of fat

In general, people should aim to eat a diet that promotes low levels of LDL cholesterol and high levels of HDL cholesterol. However, fat intake affects this balance because fatty acids bind to liver cells and regulate the production of cholesterol.

People should pay attention not only to the overall quantity of fat in their diet but also to where this fat is coming from.

  • Saturated fats: These mostly occur in meat and dairy products. They instruct the liver to produce 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.

Learn more about the different types of fats here.

Trans fats

Trans fats increase levels of LDL cholesterol and decrease levels of HDL cholesterol. For this reason, a high trans fat intake 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 intakes and increased all-cause mortality in the United States and China.

Bans on trans fat content in foods have proven positive. A 2017 study revealed a 6.2% reduction in hospital admissions for heart attack and stroke in the New York counties with a ban on trans fats.

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

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

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

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

  • packaged cookies, cakes, donuts, and pastries
  • potato chips and crackers
  • commercially fried foods
  • bakery goods that contain 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 several hours.

A person may wish to avoid the following foods due to their saturated fat and sodium content:

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

Learn more about which foods can help lower cholesterol here.

It is important to note that following a completely fat-free diet may have harmful effects. For example, excluding fats can impair childhood development and brain function, according to one older study.

Choosing healthy fats can help a person lower their LDL cholesterol levels while managing 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 digestive health. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in the bloodstream and helps remove it through stool. This type of fiber has the added benefit of helping control blood sugar levels.

Some cholesterol-friendly fiber options to consider include:

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

Nontropical 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 leaner cuts of meat, opt for smaller portions, and choose low fat or fat-free milk and yogurts.

Specific cooking methods can change the saturated fat content in a meal. Some easy adjustments to make to cooking routines include:

  • using a rack to drain off fat when broiling, roasting, or baking poultry or meats
  • using wine in place of fat drippings to baste meat
  • broiling or grilling meats instead of pan frying them
  • cutting off all visible fat from meat, and removing the skin from poultry, before cooking
  • skimming off the top layer of congealed fat after soup has been refrigerated

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

Here are some frequently asked questions about foods high in cholesterol.

Are bananas good for cholesterol?

The British Heart Foundation recommends consuming bananas as part of a heart-healthy diet. This can help a person manage their cholesterol and blood pressure.

Can drinking lots of water lower cholesterol?

Drinking plenty of water can help a person stay hydrated, and some research suggests that hydration may help a person manage their cholesterol by boosting their HDL cholesterol, or “good cholesterol.” However, it may not directly lower LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol.

Is chicken high in cholesterol?

How much cholesterol chicken contains can depend on the part of the chicken. For example, one chicken wing (106 grams) contains 119 mg of cholesterol. The method of preparing the chicken may also impact cholesterol levels.

Current guidelines advise keeping cholesterol consumption as low as possible. The American Heart Association recommends that a person should limit their intake of chicken with skin, as it contains saturated fats. Saturated fats can negatively affect a person’s LDL levels.

Is peanut butter good or bad for cholesterol?

Peanut butter can be good for cholesterol as it is a type of monounsaturated fat. It may help a person lower their total body cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that the body produces optimum amounts of on its own. Limiting foods that contain trans and unsaturated fats can be an effective way of managing one’s cholesterol levels.

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 protein sources can help a person maintain optimum cholesterol levels and promote general health.