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Cholesterol vs. Saturated Fat

When we talk about health and nutrition, the terms cholesterol and saturated fat are tossed about frequently. We should avoid large amounts of them, but I for one still get confused by the differences between the two. So I thought it might be a good time for a little review.

For starters, cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the liver and it's used by the body to make hormones, vitamin D, and other materials. It is essential to your body to function normally, and your body makes enough. Cholesterol can also be found in food, and then it is called, quite appropriately, "dietary cholesterol," and it's only found in animal products such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy. It is especially high in egg yolks and organ meats such as liver, brains, and kidneys.

Blood cholesterol refers to the cholesterol levels in your body, which can be determined by a blood test. Your total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL — HDL (good) cholesterol levels should be 40mg/dL or greater and LDL (bad) cholesterol should be 130 mg/dL or less.

If you eat too much dietary cholesterol (over 300mg a day) the extra will accumulate in the walls of the blood vessels, making your LDL (bad) blood cholesterol levels rise. Over time, your arteries will become narrower, which can cut off the blood supply to your heart (causing a heart attack) or your brain (causing a stroke).

So that is the skinny on cholesterol, and to review a few facts on saturated fat


Saturated fat is not essential to your body. It is found mainly in animal products such as meat, poultry, and dairy. All of these foods also contain dietary cholesterol. Palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil also contain saturated fats, and a lot of processed foods like cookies and crackers contain these oils. On the box it may say "No Cholesterol," but if you check the nutritional info, it may still contain saturated fat from those hidden oils. How sneaky. Saturated fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol itself, so they're the ones to watch out for. The RDI of saturated fat is 20g or less.

Fit's Tip: I'm not saying you should ditch the foods you love that contain cholesterol or saturated fat, just make sure you're staying below the recommended daily level.


Join The Conversation
dearjym dearjym 4 years
Ok, I'll be the one to admit that fat & cholesterol confuse you, yet you wrote a post about it to teach us. Shouldn't you write about what you know? Isn't there enough bad information, and blog hacks on the internet already? Considering this is actually an important topic, vital even, and the fact that pages like this are interfering [interrupting] with our legitimate search for true knowledge, are you ironically harming the cause? I tried to think of a way to write this without it coming out so harsh, but there just isn't another way, not without downplaying the significance of the points made here.
Cynthg Cynthg 9 years
Unfortunately, cholesterol, as it relates to health, is more complicated than less-is-more (healthful). Today, at the many components of cholesterol are discussed. There are so many lipid variables that no one solution fits all people. The site is a good read.
nolasiren nolasiren 9 years
I should get mine checked. I'm vegetarian but still eat dairy and eggs. My dad is Mr. Meat and Potatoes. He has had 3 heart attacks and a stroke. He's still alive, but looks like Frankinstein for the surgery scars and his quality of life is not so great. Besides decreased movement, no flexability and tiring easily he also has short-term memory loss. When driving to the corner store he forgets where he was going about 2 minutes into the drive. He has to call my mom so she can remind him that he was going pick up bread or whatever from the store. He had to retire 7 years early because he couldn't remember his passcodes to get into his job or even what he was supposed to be doing when he got there. But keep eating that bacon! *shrug* I'm sure you'll be fine.
ChefMD ChefMD 9 years
Yes, some of those product labels are its good you brought up these issues. Luckily, there are some great foods/drinks that can improve your cholesterol levels (either by lowering the bad LDL, increasing the good HDL levels, or several that do both). Some of these beneficial foods are: black tea, yogurt (likely due to the probiotics), dark chocolate, cinnamon, ground flaxseed, rice bran and oat bran, avocado, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, sunflower oil and canola oil, egg whites, Broccoli, and following the Mediterranean diet to name a few. Of course as you said, you still want to avoid saturated fats, trans fats and surprisingly: unfiltered coffee (due to a chemical called cafestol). Five cups of French press coffee raised LDL and total cholesterol levels by 6-8% over four weeks. Source: "ChefMD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine": John La Puma, M.D. (
justdandy justdandy 9 years
It's also important to remember that eating a no-fat diet will RAISE your cholesterol. Your body needs good fats and goes haywire if you deny it for too long. It sounds crazy, but it's very common for people with anorexia to suffer from high cholesterol.
moonischasingme1 moonischasingme1 9 years
Actually, studies have shown that dietary cholesterol has little impact in raising your own cholesterol; it is the saturated fat that is bad.
dameneko dameneko 9 years
i like bacon too much to be a real vegetarian, but DAMN, that fridge looks like a heart attack in the making!!
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
I wonder what mine is...
jamiedynamite jamiedynamite 9 years
You should ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS check your cholesterol.My father never did and passed away at 36 because his was very high and it caused him to have a heart attack. (He was in great shape.) My cholesterol is also very high because it's genetic. (I eat a very healthy vegetarian diet and run 4-5 days a week, + I'm only 20.) So even if you are fit get it checked! It's so important.
Spectra Spectra 9 years
Actually, the amount of saturated fat in your diet is a lot more influential on your blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol is. Some people make a lot of cholesterol and their body's cells don't have enough cholesterol receptors to take it all up. Saturated fat is VERY easy for your body to convert into LDL, which can accumulate in your arteries. Of course, it's not a good idea to eat tons of cholesterol either...most foods that contain a lot of cholesterol also contain a lot of saturated fat.
qtpye0831 qtpye0831 9 years
I have an HDL of 107 ....I guess doing cardio 6-7 days a week plus running up 26 flights of stairs everyday does a body good :-)
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