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University of Illinois Extension

Dietary Factors that Increase Blood Cholesterol

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Having high blood cholesterol, high LDL, or low HDL are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. There are five dietary factors that can increase your blood cholesterol levels, increase your LDL level, and/ or lower your HDL level:

Consuming too much dietary cholesterol, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, or too many calories can raise your blood cholesterol levels and increase your risk for heart disease. Therefore, it is important to know what foods contain these factors, and how you can change your diet to decrease your risk.

Saturated Fat

Foods high in saturated fats raise blood cholesterol more than foods high in dietary cholesterol. “Saturated” is a word that refers to the chemical structure of some fats. Saturated fats are usually firm or hold their shapes at room temperature. For example, at room temperature butter is solid because it has more saturated fat, versus oil that is liquid, because it does not have a lot of saturated fat. The main sources of saturated fat in the typical American diet are:

These foods also contain saturated fat:

Tips for Reducing Saturated Fat Intake

Trans Fat

Foods high in trans fat also raise blood cholesterol. “Trans” is also a word that refers to the chemical structure of certain unsaturated fats when they have had hydrogen added to them to make them firm. Foods with the words “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” in their ingredient list are likely to be high in trans fat. Baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, margarines, and shortenings often contain trans fats. The best way to find out if a food contains trans fat is to look on the Nutrition Facts label or look for partially hydrogenated fat in the ingredients list.

Tips for Reducing Trans Fat Intake

Total Fat

The total amount of dietary fat eaten has a large impact on blood cholesterol levels. Since many foods contain fat, the best way to find out how many grams of total fat you eat each day is to look at the Nutrition Facts labels of the foods you eat. Eating a lower fat diet tends to lower blood cholesterol and helps keep levels within a normal range. Only 20 – 35 percent of your daily calories should come from fat.

Tips for Reducing Total Fat Intake

The chart below will help you determine the amount of total fat and saturated fat grams that the American Heart Association recommends you eat depending on your calorie level.

Calorie Level Total Fat (grams) Saturated Fat (grams)
< 10% of total calories
Saturated Fat (grams)
< 7% of total calories
1200 40 < 13 < 9
1500 50 < 17 < 12
1800 60 < 20 < 14
2000 67 < 22 < 16
2200 73 < 24 < 17
2500 83 < 28 < 19
3000 100 < 33 < 23

Consuming Excess Calories

Eating too many calories leads to weight gain. Weight gain can raise your LDL cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and blood glucose levels.

Dietary Cholesterol

Dietary cholesterol is different than blood cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is the cholesterol obtained from food. Only food from animal sources contains dietary cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol only has a slight effect on your total blood cholesterol level. A person's total fat intake, especially saturated fat, has a more significant effect on blood cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol alone does. However, a person should still have a low-to-moderate intake of dietary cholesterol, which would be less than 300 mg for those without high blood cholesterol and 200 mg for those with high blood cholesterol.

Tips for Reducing Dietary Cholesterol Intake


This site was last updated June, 2014.
This is a source of information only, and is not medical advice.