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February 2015

Cholesterol Update: Current Guidelines

When it comes to cholesterol, there is more than just a single number to consider. There is low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) which play an important role in our health. LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) while HDL cholesterol may play a protective role. When cholesterol and LDL cholesterol are high, it increases the risk for CVD. What seems to be in debate is whether cholesterol from food plays a role in raising blood cholesterol levels.

Clarifying Cholesterol
Cholesterol is made in the body and has many vital functions.  It forms cell membranes, and is a precursor for vitamin D, hormones and bile acids. Too much cholesterol in the blood, especially LDL, raises the risk for CVD. 

Cholesterol is found in foods of animal origin: beef, poultry, pork, seafood, eggs and dairy products. In addition these foods often contain saturated fat, which is also linked to increased blood cholesterol levels. Those two factors make it a challenge to evaluate the impact of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol.

Is it the dietary cholesterol or the saturated fat that is  increasing the cholesterol levels? Eggs have been studied extensively since the yolk is high in cholesterol but not in saturated fats. Results are varied and studies ongoing.

Optimal Blood Cholesterol Levels
Total Cholesterol - less than 200 mg
LDL - less than 100 mg •  HDL - 60 mg or higher

Dietary Cholesterol Guidelines:
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting dietary cholesterol to:
• Less than 300 milligrams each day for most people
• Less than 200 milligrams per day for those with CVD, are at a high risk of CVD or have a LDL cholesterol level of 100 mg or more.

Cholesterol Content in Foods

Food Portion Cholesterol (Mg)
Chicken Liver

3 ounces


Egg Whole

1 - Large


Egg Yolk

1 - Large



3 ounces


Turkey,Grd 7% fat 3 ounces 90
Chicken Breast 3 ounces 76
Beef, Grd 5% fat 3 ounces 65
Halibut 3 ounces 51
Butter 1 Tbs. 31
Cheddar Cheese 1 ounce 30
Milk, Nonfat 1 cup 5

The Bottom Line
The debate continues; more scientific studies are needed to solidify findings. In the mean time, it is best to follow the American Heart Association Guidelines in regards to dietary cholesterol (as above). Also consider:

  • Beans, lentils or dried peas, a serving (1/2 to 3/4 c) most days of the week. They may lower LDL cholesterol, contain protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  • Vitamin D, there was a modest decline in LDL cholesterol. Be sure to get your D-levels checked,  if low you may need to supplement.
  • Dark chocolate may have a protective effective against CVD. The darker the chocolate the better; choose at least 70%. Chocolate ingredients should only include: cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla. Keep portions small -1 ounce of chocolate has about 170 calories.


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