What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is essential for proper functioning of cells and is also required for the production of other essential body molecules such as vitamin D, bile, sex and adrenaline hormones. In short, it is not something one needs to avoid but to keep it in a healthy range. When it is too high, it can cause health problems such as stroke and heart attack.

As part of a doctor's advise and active life style, managing one's diet helps. A start point is knowing what foods are high or low in cholesterol.

Do I Need Cholesterol in My Diet?

The body produces sufficient cholesterol; there fore, no need for dietary cholesterol. On average, human body, in the liver alone, produces 800 - 1500 mg of cholesterol per day. The amount of cholesterol the body produces depends on how much dietary cholesterol is consumed.

In the Nutritional Guidelines by the US Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board, there is no Adequate Intake (AI) or Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Estimated Average Requirement (ERA) set for cholesterol, for humans of any age.

The general guide is to take as little as possible dietary cholesterol. The 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guildelines for Americans recommends, as part of healthy lifetyle, keeping dietary cholesterol in the rainge of 100 - 300 mg per day. The recommendation is based partly because high cholesterol foods are also high on saturated fat, which are associated with health complecations.

What Is the Effect of Dietary Cholesterol?

On average, an increase of dietary cholesterol intake by 100 mg per day is predicted to increase total blood cholesterol concentration by 0.05 to 0.1 mmol/L. Most of the increase is in LDL ("bad") cholesterol (80%) and the other 20% in HDL ("good") cholesterol.

What Foods Are High in Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is found in all foods of animal source. Its content, however, varies depending on the food type (for example, milk vs meat),  meat type ( for example, beef vs chicken) and the body part of the animal the meat comes from (for example, brain vs beef), the source of the milk (for example, cow milk vs goat milk). Broadly categorizing, here are foods high in cholesterol level, and to consider to avoid or limit their consumption.

  1. Brain: Of all foods, brains have the highest concentration of cholesterol, about 1350 - 3100 mg/100g, depending on the animal type and method of cooking.
  2. Egg: Cholesterol in eggs is found only in the yolk part. Chicken whole egg (inlcuding the white part) contains about 370 mg/100g, where as the yolk part only contains about 1000 mg/100g. The dried preparations of both have 2.5 - 4 times more cholesterol. Eggs from other birds, such as turkey, goose, have much higher than chicken.
  3. Kidney: Raw kidney contains 300 - 400 mg/100g, depending on whether it is from lamb, pork or veal. Cooked preparations can contain upto 800mg/100g.
  4. Liver: Raw liver contains 250 - 500mg/100g cholesterol. Raw beef liver has the lowest cholesterol (250 - 270mg/100g) of all animals, whereas duck and goose liver have about 500 mg/100g.
  5. Fish oil: Not that you will take 100g of fish oil in a day, but so you know, fish oil contains 480 - 750 mg/100g.
  6. Spleen: This organ also is fairly dense with cholesterol, 250 - 360 mg/100g. Lamb and beef spleen are on the low end, where as pork and veal spleen on the high end.

Below is a complete list of high cholesterol food sources and their corresponding content. They represent the top 100 foods high in cholesterol content, from a list of more than 7,500 food items commonly consumed in North America. The data is obtained from the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory, the gold standard reference for nutritional data for foods common in North America.

The cholesterol content shown below is the average content of the sampled food items.

Table 1;  List of top 100 common foods with the highest cholesterol content (in mg per 100gr of edible food  portion).

Cholesterol food  sourcesCholesterol content
Beef, brain, raw 3,010.00
Egg, yolk, dried 2,335.00
Pork, fresh, brain, raw 2,195.00
Egg, whole, dried, stabilized, glucose reduced 2,017.00
Egg, whole, dried 1,715.00
Veal, brain, raw 1,590.00
Lamb, brain, raw 1,352.00
Egg, yolk, raw, fresh 1,234.00
Egg, yolk, raw, frozen 1,075.00
Egg, turkey, whole, fresh, raw 933.00
Egg, duck, whole, fresh, raw 884.00
Egg, goose, whole, fresh, raw 852.00
Egg, quail, whole, fresh, raw 844.00
Fish oil, herring 766.00
Fish oil, sardine 710.00
Fish, caviar, black and red, granular 588.00
Egg substitute, powder 572.00
Fish oil, cod liver 570.00
Fish oil, menhaden 521.00
Duck, domesticated, liver, raw 515.00
Goose, liver, raw 515.00
Fish oil, salmon 485.00
Fish, whitefish, eggs (Alaska Native) 439.00
Egg, whole, raw, frozen 432.00
McDONALD'S, Scrambled Eggs 427.00
Fast foods, egg, scrambled 426.00
Egg, whole, raw, fresh 423.00
Beef, kidneys, raw 411.00
Moose, liver, braised (Alaska Native) 389.00
Turkey, liver, all classes, cooked, simmered 388.00
Pork, fresh, lungs, cooked, braised 387.00
Lamb, spleen, cooked, braised 385.00
Beef, liver, cooked, pan-fried 381.00
Fish, roe, mixed species, raw 374.00
Lamb, liver, raw 371.00
Chicken, gizzard, all classes, cooked, simmered 370.00
Veal, kidneys, raw 364.00
Pork, fresh, spleen, raw 363.00
Chicken, roasting, giblets, cooked, simmered 357.00
Egg, whole, cooked, omelet 356.00
Chicken, stewing, giblets, cooked, simmered 355.00
Pork, fresh, liver, cooked, braised 355.00
Egg, whole, cooked, scrambled 352.00
Veal, thymus, cooked, braised 350.00
Beef, spleen, cooked, braised 347.00
Chicken, liver, all classes, raw 345.00
Veal, spleen, raw 340.00
Lamb, kidneys, raw 337.00
Veal, liver, raw 334.00
Turkey, liver, all classes, raw 331.00
Pork, fresh, lungs, raw 320.00
Pork, fresh, kidneys, raw 319.00
Pork, fresh, liver, raw 301.00
Chicken, capons, giblets, raw 292.00
Turkey, all classes, giblets, raw 282.00
Beef, liver, raw 275.00
Fish, whitefish, dried (Alaska Native) 266.00
Beef, spleen, raw 263.00
Chicken, broilers or fryers, giblets, raw 262.00



Search for cholesterol content of any food here: Cholesterol Database.

Related articles:
Foods that help lower cholesterol: Phytosterol content in food
To avoid high cholesterol in food: Cholesterol free foods

Fat content of foods related articles:
List of foods high in saturated and total fat
List of foods high in omega 3 fatty acids (unsaturated fat)



High cholesterol foods list source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20 (2007).

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Ros E. 2000. Intestinal absorption of triglyceride and cholesterol. Dietary and pharmacological inhibition to reduce cardiovascular risk. Atherosclerosis 151:357–379.