It is possible for a person to eat meat even when they are on a low cholesterol diet. It involves choosing meat and cuts with lower percentages of fat, such as poultry with no skin and some lean cuts of pork or beef.

Doctors may tell people with high cholesterol to make changes in their diet to help lower cholesterol and keep their blood pressure in healthy ranges.

The proposed changes may include cutting back on meat in general. A person also can consider picking lower-fat meats as well as meat alternatives.

It also is important that someone seeking to lower their cholesterol avoid some meats and overprocessed foods, such as lunch meats and canned meat.

In this article, we look at the definition of cholesterol, reasons for lowering cholesterol, and which meats and meat alternatives are low in cholesterol.

A person barbecuing low cholesterol meat and meat alternatives.Share on Pinterest
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Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance called a lipid, and it is made by the liver.

The body makes all the cholesterol it needs, which is why experts recommend people eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.

Cholesterol is found in a number of foods. Food sources of cholesterol include animal products such as:

  • red meat
  • poultry
  • seafood
  • dairy products
  • eggs

These foods also tend to be high in saturated fats or trans fats. These fats cause the liver to make more cholesterol than it needs, which may put a person at risk for high cholesterol.

Plant foods do not contain cholesterol. However, some plant oils that are solid at room temperature, such as palm oil or coconut oil, are higher in saturated fats that may also increase blood cholesterol.

Because the body makes all the cholesterol it needs, dietary forms of cholesterol or foods that may increase it are unnecessary.

Research in the journal Circulation notes that about 38.2% of Americans have high total blood cholesterol above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease and often has no symptoms.

Untreated high cholesterol levels can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Over time, this may narrow the arteries, causing atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis limits the flow of blood in the arteries, and raises a person’s risk of:

The body may make extra cholesterol in response to the saturated and trans fats in meat. Because of this, people should aim to consume lean cuts of meat that are as low in fat as possible.

Some general tips for choosing cholesterol-friendly meats include:

  • avoiding cuts of meat with a lot of visible fat
  • selecting lean or extra lean ground beef
  • trimming all visible fat before cooking
  • removing skin from any meat before cooking
  • wiping off or squeezing out additional fat from the meat after cooking
  • cooking on a grill, broiler rack, or other method that allows fat to drip away from the meat

Poultry

Choose low-fat options such as chicken breast or turkey breast. Choosing breast meat may allow a person to remove the skin and much of the fat.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 100 grams (g) of grilled skinless chicken breast contains:

  • calories: 151
  • protein: 30.5 g
  • fat: 3.2 g
  • carbohydrates: 0 g
  • fiber: 0 g
  • sugars: 0 g

Fish

Many fish are naturally low in saturated fat. Some are also higher in unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and cod may have a place in a low cholesterol diet. Aim to cook these fish without additional fats.

According to the USDA, 100 g of baked salmon contains:

  • calories: 160
  • protein: 25.8 g
  • fat: 5.5 g
  • carbohydrates: 0.1 g
  • fiber: 0 g
  • sugars: 0.04 g

Pork

While pork belly and processed pork options such as ham and sausage are not generally low cholesterol meats, some pork options may be okay.

One example is pork tenderloin. It is a relatively lean cut, and trimming any additional fat before cooking can help limit its impact on cholesterol.

According to the USDA, 100 g of pork tenderloin contains:

  • calories: 187
  • protein: 30.4 g
  • fat: 6.3 g
  • carbohydrates: 0 g
  • fiber: 0 g
  • sugars: 0 g

Steak

People watching their cholesterol should avoid high-fat cuts of steak and instead choose lean cuts such as sirloin or round cuts.

Additionally, consider avoiding “prime” or “choice” cuts of beef. The USDA notes these are grades of beef that indicate high marbling, or fat content. Choosing “select” cuts may be a better option, as they are leaner. For ground beef, aim for 95% lean ground beef, or as lean as possible.

An example of a lean cut of beef is a top sirloin steak. According to the USDA, 100 g of broiled top sirloin steak contains:

  • calories: 188
  • protein: 30.3 g
  • fat: 6.5 g
  • carbohydrates: 0 g
  • fiber: 0 g
  • sugars: 0 g

In addition to low cholesterol meat options, there are also a number of meat alternatives that can provide similar flavors and textures without cholesterol.

Beans and lentils

Beans and lentils are a natural whole food choice that contain amino acids, fibers, and nutrients.

According to the USDA, a 100 g serving of lentils contains:

  • calories: 116
  • protein: 9 g
  • fat: 0.4 g
  • carbohydrates: 20.1 g
  • fiber: 7.9 g
  • sugars: 1.8 g

Tempeh

Tempeh is a fermented soy product that has a more rigid texture than tofu.

According to the USDA, a 100 g serving of tempeh contains:

  • calories: 192
  • protein: 20.3 g
  • fat: 10.8 g
  • carbohydrates: 7.5 g
  • fiber: n/a
  • sugars: n/a

Any other ingredients added to the tempeh will change these values.

Jackfruit

Jackfruit is a large tropical fruit. Some companies harvest young jackfruit and brine it in salt. It has a texture similar to pulled pork. According to the USDA, a 100 g serving of young jackfruit contains:

  • calories: 33
  • protein: 1.3 g
  • fat: 0 g
  • carbohydrates: 6.7 g
  • fiber: 4 g
  • sugars: 1.3

Mature jackfruit is sweeter and will have higher levels of sugar

Tofu

Tofu is a versatile meat replacement product made from mashed soybean curd. According to the USDA, a 100 g serving of tofu contains:

  • calories: 144
  • protein: 17.3 g
  • fat: 8.7 g
  • carbohydrates: 2.8 g
  • fiber: 2.3 g
  • sugars: N/A

The exact nutritional content will vary by manufacturer and the types of ingredients they add.

Packaged products

There are countless packaged meat alternative products designed to imitate foods such as burgers, sausages, and cuts of meat.

They generally contain some form of plant-based proteins such as:

  • soy protein
  • pea protein
  • wheat protein
  • beans
  • rice
  • quinoa

These packaged products may be a good starting point for people who have specific cravings, such as those who want sausage or a burger.

The individual ingredients will vary for each, but plant-based packaged products are all free from cholesterol.

Look out for saturated or trans fats on the ingredients list, as some companies add these fats to give products a meatier taste.

Beyond their meat choices, a person can adjust their overall diet to help lower cholesterol, as well as consider other strategies such as exercise.

Diet

A general heart-healthy diet to help lower cholesterol will focus on fresh, whole foods, with an emphasis on a wide variety of plant foods such as:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • whole grains
  • legumes and beans
  • nuts
  • seeds

Other tips

Other strategies for lowering cholesterol levels include:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • getting regular physical activity
  • limiting alcohol use
  • quitting smoking

A low cholesterol diet may involve cutting back on meat products or choosing lower cholesterol options for when a person does eat meat. Meat alternatives may help fill the gap in a person’s diet without sacrificing flavor or texture they would otherwise get from meat.

Eating low cholesterol meats is just one aspect of a healthy low cholesterol plan, which typically involves both dietary and lifestyle changes. People should work directly with a doctor to find the best ways to bring cholesterol levels down safely.