High Cholesterol Foods

This article will look at high cholesterol foods as well as provide tips on how to lower cholesterol and manage high cholesterol.

High cholesterol symptoms

High cholesterol has no symptoms. A blood test is the only way to detect high cholesterol. Ask your doctor for a baseline cholesterol test at age 20 and then have your cholesterol retested at least every five years. If your test results aren’t within desirable ranges, your doctor may recommend more frequent measurements. Your doctor may also suggest you have more frequent tests if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or other risk factors, like smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure.

Did you know that foods containing high levels of saturated fat or trans fats, such as potato crisps and pastries, can boost cholesterol levels in your body much more than cholesterol-containing foods such as eggs?!

How can cholesterol levels be lowered?
 The first step should always be dietary intervention. Drug treatment can be considered. The main focus point should be on lowering fat, especially saturated fat, intake. It is important to note that there are many different types of fat, not just the visible fats, i.e. the fats that you can see clearly such as oil, butter, margarine, chicken skin and fats on meat. Keep in mind the invisible fats such as those found in milk, cream, cheese, cakes, pastries, biscuits, snack foods, fast foods and sausage meats. These tend to be saturated fats and usually make up more than half the average person’s fat intake.

As much as a mobile phone next to an ear, fat has become a regular part of our landscape. We see it everywhere. We see it on the edge of a pork chop. We taste it in our favourite desserts. We see it masquerading as spreads. Sure we know what it looks like, what it tastes like and we know it can be bad for our health but few of us really know how fat works biologically and just how much (or how little) we should be consuming of it.

If you would like to lose some body fat then cutting back on the fat in your diet may help you to achieve just that. Eating a fat free diet is however not the solution as fat is an important dietary component and is involved in many body functions such as immunity, vitamin absorption, and hormone production.

Fats and oils are highly concentrated sources of energy and each gram of fat provides 38 kilojoules (kJ) of energy whereas each gram of carbohydrate or protein provides less than half, 17 kJ. In other words, one tablespoon of oil (15 g) will provide 570 kJ of energy. So is this a lot you may ask?

How much fat and energy do I need each day?

Women: 40 g (10 g per meal and about 5 g per snack)

Men: 60 g (15 g per meal and about 7 g per snack)

It is better to distribute your fat intake evenly throughout the day therefore keep to 10 g to 15 g fat per meal and about 5 g fat per snack. In practical terms this means that you should only have one added fat at any one meal, which leaves a little ‘spare’ for the fat in the protein. Your starch and vegetables should preferably not contain any fat.

Are all fats equal?

Not-good-for-you fats:  Saturated fats found in animals products such as meat, chicken, dairy (milk, cheese, cream , butter) and tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Trans fats found in highly processed hydrogenated oils  and many confectionary or fried items such as pastries, biscuits, cakes, deep fried foods, etc.

High cholesterol foods to avoid – The threats from trans fat

Scientists now recognize that trans fat, once thought to be beneficial, can be harmful. Trans fats are made through the process of hydrogenation, which involves adding hydrogen to vegetable oils. Trans fats have been valued by manufacturers because they increase the firmness and shelf life of commercial products, including many cookies, crackers, and deep-fried foods.

Trans fats not only raise LDL cholesterol, as saturated fats do, but also lower HDL cholesterol. In other words, hardened fats can lead to hardened arteries.

Hidden pitfalls

We all know that chocolates, cakes and cookies are loaded with kilojoules and hidden fat. But what about your other favourite foods? Could hidden fats be lurking in them too? To ensure that you don’t sabotage your lower fat eating, watch out for hidden fats in these foods:

Muffins, croissants, rusks, biscuits, crisps, chocolates, health bars, instant soups, creamed soups, salad dressings, mayonnaise, pies, granolas, gravy, coffee creamers, nougat, ice cream, milkshakes, biltong, croutons, quiches, sausage, popcorn, nuts, etc.

Practical tips on how to reduce your fat intake:

When buying food

  • Read labels. Look at the fat content. Choose mostly products with less than 3 g fat per 100 g.
  • Meat is one of the primary sources of the less healthy saturated fat. Choose lean meat such as lean pork, lean beef and chicken without skin.
  • Where possible, buy unprocessed meat, chicken and fish products, unless they are low in fat.
  • Be careful of crumbed and battered products as these contain hidden fat.
  • Buy tinned products in water or tomato rather than brine or oil.
  • Choose fat free or low-fat dairy products such as fat free cottage cheese instead of regular cheese.


Preparation (or ‘Fat proofing your meals):

  • Always remove visible fat on meat or chicken before cooking. For instance, if there is fat on the meat, trim it off or if there is skin on the chicken, remove it.
  • Use lower fat preparation methods such as grilling, baking or steaming rather than frying.
  • Avoid frying. Use non-stick pans and non-stick spray. Fake fry when possible by pouring a little oil into your frying pan. Heat until liquid. Pick up pan and swirl around until oil coats the base of the pan. Pour out the remaining oil.
  • Keep to the correct portion size. Meat or chicken portions should be equal to the size of the palm of your hand (90 g to 120 g).


When it comes to fat, don’t underestimate the impact that a simple lower fat choice can have:


Swop this … Fat (g) With this … Fat (g) FATSaving
1 cup of full cream milk (250ml) 8 1 cup of skim milk (250ml) 0.5 7 g
30g cheddar cheese 10 45g fat free cottage cheese 0.5 9 g
Pork schnitzel (100 g) 28 Grilled pork chop (100 g) 15 13 g
One fistful of fried chips (100 g) 16 One fistful of baked chips (100 g) 8 8 g
3 tablespoons of regular salad dressing 28 3 tablespoons oil free salad dressing 4 24 g
Chocolate slab (100 g) 31 Chocolate bar (50 g) 16 15 g

Just as a small tablet can take away a big headache, so too can small changes to your diet make a big impact. Becoming a fundi may not always be easy but with a little finesse and practice you will get it right!

More high cholesterol foods to avoid:

Carbohydrates: Avoid refinement

Like fats, carbohydrates—sugars, starches, and fiber— can be both good and bad. Good carbohydrates are found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Bad carbohydrates are in products made with sugar (sweets, snacks, and soda) and refined grains (white bread, white pasta, and white rice). Sugars and other refined carbohydrates are digested rapidly and can cause surges in blood sugar and insulin as well as boost triglycerides and lower protective HDL cholesterol. These changes increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Excess caffeine (Coffee)

Most coffees—as well as energy drinks, colas, and teas—contain caffeine, a stimulant that keeps you awake and alert. For the most part, it is safe to drink coffee—with a few caveats. Unfiltered brews, such as French press, Turkish, and espresso, can raise blood cholesterol levels because of a higher concentration of coffee oils

To be safe, either drink unfiltered brewed coffee in moderation, or filter coffee through a paper filter to greatly reduce the cholesterol-raising effect.