How Much Cholesterol Is OK on a Low-Cholesterol Diet?

by Melanie Thomassian Health Professional

So, how much cholesterol can you have per day on a low cholesterol diet? This is a pretty common question for anyone who has been told to lower their cholesterol levels.

Firstly, let me say that cholesterol naturally occurs in all parts of the body, and that it is necessary for normal bodily functions. It is present in your brain, nerves, muscle, skin, liver, intestines, and heart. And, your body uses cholesterol to produce many hormones, vitamin D, and the bile acids which help to digest fat.

However, only a small amount of cholesterol is needed for all of these needs. So, just like most things in life, having too much of an otherwise good thing is unhealthy.

Too much cholesterol in your bloodstream is said to contribute to atherosclerosis, which eventually can lead to narrowing of the coronary arteries, heart disease, angina, and/or heart attack.

Government guidelines advise that total blood cholesterol levels be kept below 200 mg/dL, and that LDL cholesterol be kept below 100 mg/dL.

On a day to day basis, this means you should limit your average cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day. But, if you have been diagnosed with heart disease, this should be reduced further to an intake of less than 200 milligrams per day.

Sources of cholesterol

There are two sources of cholesterol: a) a small amount comes from your food, but most of it is made b) within the body by your liver.

Only a few foods actually contain higher levels of cholesterol. Some examples of those which do, include:

  • Eggs

  • Kidney

  • Liver

  • Prawns

In fact, eating foods that are high in cholesterol won't usually raise your blood cholesterol level much cholesterol levels are mainly influenced by the other fats in your diet.

Saturated fats

Saturated fats cause LDL cholesterol to rise in your blood. Foods to cut back on include, cheese, butter, cream and cakes and cookies.

Trans fats

Trans fats are one of the most dangerous forms of fat, and should be avoided as much as possible. The Nurses' Health Study demonstrated that women who ate the most trans fats were more than three times as likely to develop heart disease, compared to those who consumed the least.

Trans fats are found in processed foods, such as cookies, baked goods, margarine, shortening, potato chips, and french fries.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats help to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in your blood. So, try to replace the saturated and trans fats in your diet with unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and avocados.

No cholesterol foods

Foods which don't contain cholesterol come from plants, for example dry beans, fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Additional factors

  • Weight: Being overweight is a major risk factor for heart disease, but it can also increase your cholesterol levels. However, losing weight can help to lower LDL, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, as well as increase your HDL levels.

  • Exercise: Being inactive is also a risk factor for heart disease. But, adding a regular exercise routine to your weekly lifestyle can help to lower your LDL cholesterol levels, as well as boost your HDL cholesterol levels.

Melanie Thomassian
Meet Our Writer
Melanie Thomassian

Melanie is a dietitian and writer. She wrote for HeatlhCentral as a health professional for Food & Nutrition and Heart Health.