Foods to Limit or Avoid on a Low-Cholesterol Diet

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A low-cholesterol diet may improve your heart health. It can be overwhelming, though, so it's helpful to have a list of high-cholesterol and high-saturated fat foods to avoid and limit. You'll find that below.

Remember, it's never too late to adopt healthier eating habits, but you should work with your doctor to determine the right dietary changes for you.

Saturated Fat and Cholesterol

Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol can contribute to high total cholesterol and a high low-density lipoprotein (LDL—the "bad" cholesterol) level in the body, increasing your risk for coronary artery disease caused by atherosclerosis, which is plaque build-up in the arteries.

Here's a list of foods that are high in cholesterol or saturated fat that you need to limit or avoid:

Eggs and Meat

  • While eggs contain cholesterol, studies suggest that most people can eat an egg or two per day without appreciably increasing their cholesterol levels or their cardiovascular risk. The exceptions to that are if you have diabetes or heart disease, or if you're at high risk for heart disease, you should restrict eggs in their diet to no more than two to four egg yolks per week.
  • Limit high-fat cuts of beef like top loin, T-bone, tenderloin, porterhouse, brisket, rib-eye, and flank steak. Choose meats labeled "choice," "select," and "lean."
  • Avoid so-called "organ" meats such as liver and sweetbreads, which have as much as 375 mg of cholesterol per 3-ounce serving.
  • Limit processed and luncheon meats such as bologna, ham, hot dogs, sausage, and packaged lunch meats. They're high in saturated fats and sodium.
  • Avoid duck and goose, though note that lean, skinless breast or leg are lower-fat choices. Avoid frying anything in duck or goose fat.

Dairy

  • While dietary guidelines still suggest limiting whole-fat dairy products for cardiovascular health, evidence is accumulating that this is unnecessary. Recent studies have even suggested that consuming whole-fat dairy products may even be associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease.
  • If you need to watch your cholesterol, talk with your doctor about whether it's okay for you to eat whole-fat dairy or whether you should opt for the low-fat stuff.

Oils

  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
  • Check the food labels of packaged foods for the terms "hydrogenated" or "partially-hydrogenated oil." If these terms appear as one of the first five ingredients, it would be advisable to avoid or limit those products.

Sides

  • Limit French fries and other fried dishes made with partially hydrogenated or saturated fats.
  • Try baked sweet potato fries or fruit for a healthier alternative.

Desserts

  • Limit cakes, cookies, crackers, pastries, pies, muffins, and doughnuts, especially those made with partially hydrogenated or saturated fats.
  • When baking at home, consider low-fat recipes to make your desserts more cholesterol-friendly.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that your new cholesterol-friendly diet doesn't have to be as restricted as you might have expected it to be. Although it does involve limiting or avoiding the foods listed above, there are plenty of new foods and recipes to add in as well. You can change up old favorite recipes by substituting more heart-healthy choices and find creative ways to prepare new foods you may not have tried before that help lower cholesterol, such as black, navy, or kidney beans, eggplant, okra, oats, soy, and fatty fish.

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Article Sources

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  1. MacRae F Linton, MD, Patricia G Yancey, PhD, Sean S Davies, PhD, et al. The Role of Lipids and Lipoproteins in Atherosclerosis. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al. Endotext: Comprehensive Free Online Endocrinology Book. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc; 2019.

  2. Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publishing. Are Eggs Risky for Heart Health? Updated June 24, 2019.

  3. American Heart Association. Cooking to Lower Cholesterol. Reviewed April 30, 2017.

  4. Lordan R, Tsoupras A, Mitra B, Zabetakis I. Dairy Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: Do We Really Need to be Concerned? Foods. 2018;7(3):29. Published 2018 Mar 1. doi:10.3390/foods7030029

  5. American Heart Association. Trans Fats. Reviewed 2015.

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