Foods High in Cholesterol Could Save Your Health!
Revised March, 2007
by Chris Masterjohn
No, you read that right. Foods high in cholesterol can actually save your health.
Cholesterol has been one of the most maligned and misunderstood
substances of the twentieth century. Eating foods high in cholesterol
was long thought to raise blood cholesterol levels, something
considered to be so dangerous that some of the most nutritious foods on
the planet -- like liver and egg yolks -- were demonized as enemies of
Unfortunately the campaign against cholesterol has washed away
from our daily menus many of the most important foods we should
treasure for excellent health and vitality.
Polyunsaturated Fat — Healthy or Harmful?
only that, but medical researchers began recommending the consumption
of vegetable oils to obtain large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty
acids (PUFA), because these fatty acids reduce cholesterol levels. More
recently, to counteract the negative effects of omega-6 PUFA from
vegetable oils, many are recommending consuming high amounts of omega-3
PUFA from fish oils. But the need for PUFA is incredibly small and both
omega-6 and omega-3 PUFA can contribute to degenerative disease by
increasing exposure to "oxidative stress." For more
information on the true requirement for PUFA, click here.
The Effect of Foods on Cholesterol Levels
Since we cannot possibly eat enough cholesterol to use for
our bodies' daily functions, our bodies make their own. When we eat
more foods rich in this compound, our bodies make less. If we deprive
ourselves of foods high in cholesterol -- such as eggs,
butter, and liver — our body revs up its cholesterol synthesis. The end
result is that, for most of us, eating foods high in cholesterol has
very little impact on our blood cholesterol levels.
In seventy percent of the population, foods rich in cholesterol
such as eggs cause only a subtle increase in cholesterol levels or none
at all. In the other thirty percent, these foods do cause a rise in
blood cholesterol levels. Despite this, research has never established
any clear relationship between the consumption of dietary cholesterol
and the risk for heart disease.1 (See: Myth: Eating Cholesterol-Rich Foods Raises Blood Cholesterol Levels.)
Raising cholesterol levels is not necessarily a bad thing either. In fact, in one to three percent of the population, dietary cholesterol might be an essential nutrient.
Arachidonic Acid is Essential to Growth as Well as Healthy Hair and Skin
Moreover, cholesterol-rich foods are the main source of arachidonic
acid (AA). While AA is often said to be inflammatory, it is actually
the most critically essential fatty acid in the body. Healthy adults
only need very little, if any, of it, but growing children, women who
are looking to conceive or are pregnant or nursing, and people who are
bodybuilding, suffering from degenerative diseases involving oxidative
stress, or recovering from injury need to consume AA in the diet.
Strict vegans and those who consume lots of omega-3 fats might also
require AA in the diet. Signs of deficiency include scaly skin, hair
loss, and infertility. Click here for more information on the requirement for arachidonic acid.
Which Foods are Highest In Cholesterol?
Below is a table that shows the top twenty cholesterol-rich
whole foods from the USDA's database, listed by milligrams of
cholesterol per gram of food. Although dietary cholesterol is not an
essential nutrient for most people, the foods richest in cholesterol
have unique nutrient profiles that make them critical components of a
nutrient-dense diet. In order to maintain superb health, increased
energy and stamina, peak mental performance, and sexual vitality,
picking some of the foods at the top of this list for daily consumption
will prove to be your best weapon.
Table 1: Top Twenty Foods High in Cholesterol
by mass (mg/g)
Pork Liver Sausage
Data taken from the USDA
Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17.
For a complete list of
foods high in cholesterolthat
includes refined, enriched, and packaged foods, sorted by mg of
cholesterol per serving, click on the underlined text. If you would
like the same list of foods high in cholesterol sorted alphabetically,
please click on the underlined text in this sentence.
Health Foods High in Cholesterol
Chicken liver takes the top-spot among all foods high in cholesterol, and the top seven contain three entries for liver. My
must-read selection of articles on liver
shows why liver should also take the top spot on your list of healthy
foods to eat, why it knocks the socks off of any energy drink on the
market, and how to find the right liver and prepare it correctly so you
can actually enjoy it.
Everyone knows eggs - or, egg yolks, rather - are high
in cholesterol. Many have, trying to maintain a "healthy" diet,
discarded the yolks from this food for this reason.
My article on the
Incredible, Edible Egg Yolk
proves that this super-food contains nearly all the nutrition in an
egg, and shows you how to find the healthiest eggs in your area.
The number six spot belongs to butter. Butter is an important
part of a nutritious diet, that helps boost the immune system, and
contains nutrients that build strong bones and teeth. Skim milk
contains calcium, but it is the milk-fat in whole milk and butter that
contains the nutrients that put that calcium where it needs to go.
Is Dietary Cholesterol an Essential Nutrient?
Choosing among the foods highest in cholesterol is important
for two reasons. Not only are many of these foods true super-foods --
rich in a wide array of nutrients, many of which are difficult to find
elsewhere -- but cholesterol itself may be an important dietary
nutrient for at least one to three percent of the population and may be
essential to their health.
Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome (SLOS) is a genetic condition arising
from the inability to convert 7-dehydrocholesterol (a common precursor
of both cholesterol and vitamin D) into cholesterol. Most often, it
results in spontaneous abortion within the first sixteen weeks of
gestation.2 Children who are born with the
defect may suffer from mental retardation, autism, facial and skeletal
malformations, visual dysfunctions and failure to thrive. The current
treatment is dietary cholesterol.3
SLOS is an autosomal recessive disorder, which means that both
parents must contribute a defective gene in order for their child to
develop the disease. Thus only one in 60,000 infants are born with the
The proportion of people who carry the SLOS gene, however, is
much higher. Approximately one in a hundred North American Caucasians
possess a copy of the defective gene, and as many as one in fifty or
even one in thirty Central Europeans possess a copy of the defective
gene.2 These people, called SLOS
"carriers," have reduced cholesterol synthesis, but still synthesize
enough cholesterol to escape the severe risks and abnormalities that
characterize clinical SLOS. SLOS carriers, then, comprise from one
percent to over three percent of many populations.
An important study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 20044
showed that people who carry the SLOS gene are more than three times as
likely to have attempted suicide as those who do not carry the gene.
Moreover, the methods of committing suicide among carriers of the SLOS
gene were more violent: while the one suicide attempt among controls
involved an overdose of over-the-counter diet pills, attempts among
SLOS carriers involved not only diet pills and deliberate inhalation of
exhaust fumes but also firearms and an attempt to crash a car.
This is consistent with studies showing that low blood
cholesterol levels are associated with suicide and that cholesterol
levels in certain areas of the brain are lower in those who commit
suicide by violent means than in those who commit suicide by
Unfortunately, this study of 105 subjects was not statistically
powerful enough to conclusively determine that this association was not
due to chance. It was powerful enough, however, to conclusively show
that SLOS carriers were more than four times as likely to have at least
one biological relative who attempted or committed suicide and almost
six times as likely to have a first-degree relative who attempted or
Dietary cholesterol decreases aggressive and self-injurious
behaviors in patients with clinical SLOS. It also improves
hyperactivity, irritability, attention span, muscle tone, endocrine
function, resistance to infection, and gastrointestinal problems in
Taken together, these data suggest that dietary cholesterol may
be an essential nutrient for one to three percent of the population.
Moreover, there may be other differences in genetics besides the SLOS
gene that may contribute to reduced cholesterol synthesis and a
requirement for dietary cholesterol in other people. Clearly, then,
some people not only require the rich array of nutrients in
cholesterol-rich foods but may even require the cholesterol itself.
1. Fernandez ML. Dietary cholesterol provided by eggs and plasma
lipoproteins in healthy populations. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care.
2006; 9(1): 8-12.
2. Nowaczyk MJM, Waye JS, Douketis JD. DHCR7 Mutation Carrier Rates and
Prevalence of the RSH/Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome: Where Are the
Patients? Am J Med Genet. 2006; Part A 140A: 2057-2062.
3. Elias ER, Irons MB, Hurley AD, Tint S, Salen G. Clinical Effects of
Cholesterol Supplementation in Siz Patients With the Smith-Lemli-Opitz
Syndrome (SLOS). Am J Med Genet. 1997; 68: 305-310.
4. Lalovic A, Merkens L, Russell L, Arsenault-Lapierre G, Nowaczyk MJM,
Porter FD, Steiner RD, Turecki G. Cholesterol Metabolism and
Suicidality in Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome Carriers. Am J Psychiatry.
2004; 161: 2123-2126.
5. Lalovic A, Levy E, Luheshi G, Canetti L, Grenier E, Sequeira A,
Turecki G. Cholesterol content in brains of suicide completers. Int J
Neuropsychopharmacol. 2007; 10(2): 159-66.