Foods That Raise Cholesterol—Plus a Few Surprising Foods That Don't!

If you're watching your cholesterol numbers, watch out for these foods. We also bust several cholesterol myths to show you some foods don't deserve the bad rap they get.

mac and cheese

Photo: 4kodiak/ Getty Images

High levels of LDL cholesterol, the bad type of cholesterol, in your blood increase your risk for heart disease. While exercising and eating foods that reduce LDL cholesterol can help, the best thing you can do to improve your numbers is avoid these foods that raise LDL cholesterol.

Read More: What You Need to Know About Your Cholesterol Levels

steak on white plate
Photo: Iain Bagwell/ Getty Images.

Red meat

Eating fatty steaks and ground beef can raise your LDL cholesterol because they are high in saturated fat. Processed red meats like bacon and sausage are even worse for heart health because they're also high in sodium, too much of which can lead to high blood pressure. While some saturated fat is OK in moderation, you're better off swapping out the red meat for heart-healthy fish or skinless white-meat poultry. If you do want a steak, look for lean cuts, like New York strip, and opt for grass-fed varieties, which tend to have less fat than conventional beef.


Because it's high in saturated fat, butter has been shown to increase LDL cholesterol in the blood. To lower your LDL cholesterol and improve your good HDL cholesterol levels, substitute healthier mono- or polyunsaturated fats for butter. Spread almond butter or smash avocado on toast in place of butter, or sauté vegetables in olive oil for added heart-healthy benefits without sacrificing flavor. If you prefer the flavor of butter, use it as a finishing ingredient. Toss it with freshly steamed beans, or rub it on warm roll tops. You'll get the flavor satisfaction without consuming a great deal of the golden spread.

Read More: This or That: Butter vs. Coconut Oil

Macaroni and cheese

This creamy comfort-food favorite packs a triple whammy of saturated fat. Often made with whole milk, butter and full-fat cheese, mac and cheese is best reserved for a once-in-a-while treat. The pasta itself and the buttery breadcrumbs that top it off might also contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels. Research has shown that refined carbohydrates, like white bread and white pasta, can increase LDL cholesterol. If you can't live without your mac and cheese, opt for a homemade version with whole-wheat pasta and low-fat milk and cheese.

Store-bought baked goods

Muffins, cookies and cakes combine artery-clogging ingredients like butter, sugar and refined flour. The store-bought ones in particular often come in massive portions, which can contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels if you indulge too often. Some commercial baked goods also contain trans fats, which are widely recognized as unsafe because they increase the risk of heart disease. While these dangerous trans fats are mostly being phased out of processed foods, it's important to check the label to be sure. If you enjoy the convenience of a grab-and-go breakfast option, make a batch of muffins on the weekend, and freeze them for the future. Simply take one out of the freezer the night before you intend to eat it. In the morning, zap it for 10 to 15 seconds in the microwave for a fresh-from-the-oven healthier alternative.

Try These: Healthy Muffin Recipes

Are high-cholesterol foods bad for you?

For decades, standard diet advice was to limit foods high in cholesterol to keep your numbers down, but the latest research has turned this recommendation on its head. Dietary cholesterol is different from blood cholesterol, so eating foods high in cholesterol won't necessarily raise levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood. That means that some of these once-banned foods are now back on the table.

Baby Kale Breakfast Salad with Bacon & Egg

Pictured Recipe: Baby Kale Breakfast Salad with Bacon & Egg

Egg yolks

The myth that eating cholesterol-rich egg yolks raises your blood cholesterol is partially responsible for the rise in popularity of the egg-white omelet. New research says it's OK to eat the yolks, even if you're watching your cholesterol. While eating the whole egg rather than just the white ups the total calorie count, egg yolks are high in important nutrients, including vitamin D, choline and vision-boosting lutein and zeaxanthin.

Keep Reading: 10 Foods That Lower Cholesterol


Shellfish like shrimp and lobster also got a bad rap because of their high cholesterol content, but they're actually low in saturated fat and contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Just be sure to choose broiled or baked seafood instead of fried, and skip the melted butter.

Bottom Line

Foods loaded with saturated fats, sugar and refined carbs have been shown to increase unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, so reducing the number of foods you eat with those ingredients can help you improve your numbers. Likewise, some foods that were once considered off-limits for people watching their cholesterol are now allowed because research shows the cholesterol in them doesn't affect your blood cholesterol numbers.

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