Dietary vs Blood Cholesterol: What’s the Difference?

Dietary cholesterol is found in animal products such as meat.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. One of the major risk factors for heart disease is high total blood cholesterol. Therefore, many people want to know how to keep their cholesterol in a healthy range.

In the video below, Amanda Haney discusses the difference between dietary and blood cholesterol. She also provides 3 tips on how to lower dietary cholesterol.

Continue reading for more information. 

This brings us to one of the most confusing and widely debated topics of nutrition – cholesterol.  In this article, I am going to teach you the difference between dietary and blood cholesterol. In addition, I’m going to give you nutrition tips so you can decrease your total blood cholesterol and improve your heart health!

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Dietary cholesterol is found in animal products such as meat.

Dietary vs blood cholesterol

Did you know cholesterol is found in all animal tissues?

Blood cholesterol travels in your bloodstream with the help of carriers called HDL and LDL cholesterol. HDL is the healthy type that carries cholesterol away from your body tissues. LDL is the unhealthy type that deposits cholesterol in your tissues and arteries. This can eventually harden and block your arteries leading to heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

On the other hand, dietary cholesterol is found in animal products such as meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. There is no cholesterol in plant foods.

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Eggs are one of the many healthy animal protein sources that contain over 100mg of cholesterol per serving.

Dietary cholesterol recommendations

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting dietary cholesterol to 300mg per day. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of confusion because eggs, fish, and shellfish are healthy animal protein sources that contain over 100mg of cholesterol per serving.

One large study showed that eating eggs did not increase the risk of heart disease for men and women. More recent research has shown blood cholesterol increases more from saturated fats, trans fats, and certain types of carbohydrates. This is why the most recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans removed the cholesterol limit.

3 tips to decrease your dietary cholesterol

In order to decrease your blood cholesterol and lower your risk for heart disease, pay attention to your overall fat and carbohydrate intake instead of a specific cholesterol number. Here are three tips to remember:

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Pizza is an example of a food high in saturated fat.

1) Decrease saturated fats and eliminate trans fats from your diet.

The American Heart Association recommends less than 5-6% of total calories per day from saturated fats. Foods with cholesterol that are also high in saturated fats include red meats and dairy products made from whole milk. Other high saturated fat foods include burgers, tacos, pizza, and fried foods.

Instead, replace your saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats like flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts, fish and seafood. 

Grapes are a healthier form of carbohydrates.

2) Choose healthier carbohydrates.

Added sugars and sweetened beverages can increase blood cholesterol. When your carbohydrate choices include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, your diet will be lower in added sugar and high in fiber. As a result, a high fiber diet can decrease your cholesterol by as much as 10 percent!

3) Don’t forget about the importance of exercise!

Aerobic exercise is particularly important! This type of exercise increases your heart rate and breathing. In return, it increases your healthy HDL cholesterol and decreases your total blood cholesterol. Walking, swimming, bicycling, and dancing are all types of aerobic exercise.

For more tips and an individualized plan to decrease your heart disease risk, talk to your registered dietitian today!


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Amanda Haney, MS, RD, CNSC
Hi, my name is Amanda Haney. I am a registered dietitian, board-certified nutrition support clinician, Cal State Long Beach alumnae, and former pediatric clinical dietitian. Currently, I am working as a project manager at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. As a clinical dietitian or in my current role, my passion is working in a diverse setting with a variety of teams in order to improve patient outcomes and achieve better health for the families in my community. I became a dietitian because I love food and I love medicine. There is so much misinformation about nutrition in the media, so I enjoy creating educational content that makes nutrition simple and to make your health goals achievable. In my free time, I love soaking up the beauty at the beach, riding my bike, staying active, cooking, and, most of all, spending time with my family and friends!