Dietary Cholesterol

Understand dietary cholesterol and cholesterol targets in the Nutrient Explorer

What it is

Cholesterol is a non-fat lipid. Molecular cholesterol shouldn’t be confused with the “cholesterol” people refer to when discussing blood lipids. When people refer to HDL and LDL “cholesterol,” they’re referring to lipoproteins that transport molecular cholesterol and various fats through the bloodstream.

What it does

Cholesterol is the precursor for synthesizing steroid hormones. Hormones like testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, and vitamin D are all built upon a cholesterol base. Cholesterol can also be found in cell membranes, where it helps regulate membrane fluidity, and assists in various aspects of cellular signaling.

High dietary cholesterol was once thought to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, but the current evidence suggests that it neither increases or decreases cardiovascular disease risk. Dietary cholesterol has little-to-no impact on the total concentration of cholesterol molecules in your body. Most of the cholesterol in your body is produced in the liver, which regulates cholesterol levels. When dietary cholesterol intake increases, the liver just synthesizes less cholesterol, and when dietary cholesterol intake decreases, the liver just synthesizes more cholesterol. 

Recommended intake

There are no current guidelines for recommended minimum or maximum dietary cholesterol intake. However, foods that are high in dietary cholesterol are often high in saturated fat, so limiting saturated fat intake typically results in relatively low levels of dietary cholesterol intake.

Likelihood of tracking completeness: Very high in the US and Canada, and low in many other places.

Nutrition labels in the US and Canada are required to list cholesterol content. So, the vast majority of American and Canadian foods in the MacroFactor database should contain cholesterol information, making it easy to accurately track your cholesterol intake with consistent food logging.

However, in the EU, Australia, and many other countries, cholesterol is a nutrient that is only reported on a voluntary basis. Many food manufacturers do not voluntarily list cholesterol content on nutrition labels, so many branded products in the MacroFactor database from outside the US and Canada lack cholesterol information. So, if you’d like to accurately track your cholesterol intake, you’ll need to make a point of mostly tracking “common foods,” which come from research-grade databases that have full nutrient reporting.

For more on when you can track using branded foods versus common foods when you’re trying to accurately monitor your intake of particular nutrients, you should check out this article.

Likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake: n/a

Dietary cholesterol is not an essential nutrient, and dietary cholesterol intake doesn’t meaningfully affect total cholesterol levels in the body.

For more on nutrients with a greater likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake, you should check out this article.

Signs of deficiency/insufficiency: n/a

Foods high in dietary cholesterol

Organ meats (especially brain, kidney, liver, and gizzard) tend to be high in dietary cholesterol, along with the meat of coldwater aquatic mammals, egg yolks, squid, shellfish, and fish eggs.

Did this answer your question?