Are Eggs, Meat, and Dairy Bad for High Cholesterol?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on September 16, 2016Written by Laura A. Magnifico

True or false? Eggs, dairy, and meat are bad for you

You’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol. Should you completely eliminate eggs, meat, and dairy from your diet? Not necessarily. Reducing the amount of unhealthy fats you consume is vital to lowering your high cholesterol. But you don’t have to completely rid your diet of eggs, meat, and dairy products to make it more cholesterol-friendly. You can incorporate these foods into your diet in a healthy way. The key to enjoying them all comes down to:

  • how you prepare these foods
  • how often you eat them
  • how often you substitute healthier options

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol usually has a negative connotation. But not all cholesterol is bad. There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol. It helps to remove dangerous cholesterol from the blood so it can be eliminated by the body. LDL is called “bad” cholesterol. When too much of it is present in the blood, it causes a buildup of plaque on the arterial walls in the heart and brain. When left untreated, this buildup of plaque can lead to:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • heart attack

Food and cholesterol

Cholesterol serves vital functions for your body. It aids in important jobs such as:

  • making the outer coating of cells
  • making the bile acids to digest food
  • producing vitamin D and hormones

About 75 percent of cholesterol is produced naturally in the body, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The other 25 percent is derived from the food you eat. Cholesterol becomes a health hazard when too much of it is present in the blood. For some individuals, genetics cause their liver to produce too much LDL (bad) cholesterol. A contributor to high LDL cholesterol is consistently eating foods high in:

  • saturated fat
  • trans fat
  • cholesterol

Cholesterol is only present in animal products, including meat and dairy products.

Healthy numbers

According to the AHA, the optimal LDL level in the body is less than 100 mg/dL. A level of 130 to 159 mg/dL is considered borderline high. Since HDL (good) cholesterol is protective, a higher number is better. The ADA recommends an HDL of at least 60 mg/dL.

The Mayo Clinic recommends those with high LDL cholesterol to limit their daily cholesterol intake to 200 mg or less. Keep this number in mind when planning your meals throughout the day. Read food labels carefully to make sure you don’t consume more than the recommended amount.

“Eggcellent” or evil?

Eggs are thought to be taboo when it comes to the topic of cholesterol. However, multiple studies show that eggs are not evil. According to the Cleveland Clinic, eggs are high in:

  • antioxidants
  • protein
  • nutrients


The antioxidants in eggs have been associated with lower rates of:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • high blood pressure
  • cancer

Eating eggs in moderation, about 4-6 eggs per week, is acceptable, even for people with high cholesterol, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Research shows that people who eat eggs in moderation don’t show an increase in their cholesterol levels compared to those who eliminate eggs completely from their diet. The key is eating eggs in moderation.

The meat of the matter

Creating a healthy meal plan to maintain your cholesterol doesn’t mean have to omit meat altogether. While some types of meat are high in saturated fat, there are plenty of leaner options. You can safely include meat in your diet. It just depends on the type of meat you choose and how you prepare it. Select leaner cuts and smaller portions of meat (less than 3 ounces), such as:

  • lean beef: chuck, sirloin or loin
  • lean pork cuts: the tenderloin or loin chop
  • lamb: cuts from the leg, arm and loin
  • ground beef that’s made of 90 percent or higher lean meat
  • meats labeled “prime” mean they’re higher in fat. Look for meats labeled “choice” or “select”

Cooking methods

How you cook meat is just as important as the cut of meat. Don’t select a lean cut of pork tenderloin and then deep fry it or prepare a cream-based sauce to go with it. That negates the benefits of the lean cut of pork. Adopt these healthier cooking options:

  • Trim as much visible fat as possible before cooking.
  • Grill, broil, roast, and bake instead of frying.
  • Use a rack to catch fat drippings and juices while cooking.
  • Cook meat-based dishes, such as stew, a day in advance. Once refrigerated, the fat solidifies and rises to the top, which you can remove.

Dairy

Consuming dairy products is known to have health benefits, especially in strengthening bones. Dairy products are high in:

  • calcium
  • potassium
  • vitamin D

Consuming whole-fat dairy products can have the unwanted health effect of increasing your LDL cholesterol levels. They are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Replace them with healthier, low fat options including:

  • 1-percent milk or skim milk
  • low-fat cheeses such as:
    • low fat cottage cheese
    • part-skim milk mozzarella
    • ricotta
  • sorbet or sherbet
  • low-fat or fat-free frozen yogurt or ice cream
  • low-fat yogurt
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