How much cholesterol should you have per day?
While there is no specific limit on how much cholesterol people should have per day, many organizations do have guidelines about the fatty foods that contain cholesterol.
Experts used to believe that eating foods high in cholesterol would lead to heart disease and other health conditions. However, more recent findings suggest that the link between cholesterol levels and foods is more complex.
Keep reading to learn more about how much cholesterol a person should eat each day.
People should try to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats whenever possible.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), people should follow the recommendations for cholesterol and fat consumption found in 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- Making sure saturated fats contribute less than 10% of total calories per day.
- Avoiding all trans fats.
- Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats whenever possible.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that the body produces in the liver. People produce more than enough cholesterol each day from proteins, sugar, and fats. All cells throughout the body contain cholesterol.
Extra cholesterol only comes from eating animal products. There is no cholesterol in vegetables, beans, or fruits. All the cholesterol a person consumes in their food is called dietary cholesterol.
Previously, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested that a person should consume 300 milligrams (mg) per day or less of dietary cholesterol.
However, as a review of studies pointed out, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines no longer makes this recommendation. According to the same review, there is no evidence to suggest that dietary cholesterol has any links to cardiovascular disease.
However, higher levels of cholesterol are often in foods that contain saturated fat, trans fat, and added sugar. Unlike cholesterol, these substances are all linked to cardiovascular disease and other conditions that affect a person's health.
A person who focuses on reducing saturated fat, trans fat, and added sugars will naturally consume less cholesterol overall and help improve their health.
When a person eats too many foods that contain saturated or trans fat, the liver starts to produce too much low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
People often refer to LDL cholesterol as bad cholesterol because it is responsible for creating deposits that can clog a person's arteries. As a result, guidelines recommend that a person limits the calories from saturated and trans fats to less than 10 % of their daily calorie intake.
However, at around the same time as the USDA published its guide, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended cutting the daily intake of saturated fats to between 5% and 6% of the total number of calories.
Foods to avoid
A person with high cholesterol should try to avoid processed foods that are high in saturated fats.
Only animal products contain cholesterol. These include:
- egg yolks
However, not all foods that contain cholesterol are high in saturated fats, which is what people should try to avoid.
A person should try to avoid or limit foods that contain cholesterol and higher amounts of saturated fats, such as:
- processed meats, such as bacon
- ice cream
- baked goods
- fried foods
- red meats, such as steak
Cholesterol free foods
There is a wide variety of foods a person can regularly consume that do not contain any cholesterol, saturated fats, added sugar, or trans fat.
Cholesterol free foods include:
- whole grains, such as oats, quinoa, brown rice
- nuts (look for raw or dry roasted with no added salt)
Veganism is the only totally cholesterol free diet. Vegans still have cholesterol in their body, made by the liver, but do not consume any dietary cholesterol.
Symptoms of high cholesterol
A doctor may order a blood test to check for high cholesterol.
Having high cholesterol does not usually cause symptoms but can slowly block an artery and cause a heart attack or stroke. Life threatening events are often the first physical symptom of clogged arteries.
People should make sure they check their cholesterol levels regularly, even if they do not have any symptoms.
A doctor will typically order blood work every 4 to 6 years. A blood test is the only way to know if a person's cholesterol levels are high.
People with other risk factors for heart disease may need to get their cholesterol checked more frequently. These risk factors include:
- high blood pressure
- family history of heart disease or high blood cholesterol
- previously having had high cholesterol
Current research indicates that dietary cholesterol does not have a major effect on a person's health. Instead, a person should concentrate on reducing or eliminating foods high in saturated fats, trans fat, and added sugars.
The USDA's general guidelines suggest a person should get less than 10% of their total calories from saturated fat. To do this, focus on eating a variety of vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fruits.
It is best to limit or avoid processed foods, red meat, and some dairy products as they contain high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.