Foods High in Cholesterol Could Save Your Health!

July, 2005 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 our arteries.

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?

Not 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




Cholesterol Content by mass (mg/g)

Chicken Liver


Chicken Giblets




Beef Liver


Turkey Giblets




Pork Liver Sausage






Heavy Cream




Pork Ribs




Turkey Neck


Pork Shoulder


Beef Chuck






Duck Meat






Data taken from the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17. For a complete list of foods high in cholesterol that 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 disease.

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 non-violent means.5

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 committed suicide.4

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 these patients.3

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.

You can peruse the references, share this article, or leave a comment below.

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

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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.

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