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Ask Dr. Gourmet



Should I be Concerned About Cholesterol in Food?

When I look at some of your recipes I see some of them are way over 250mg cholesterol, for instance your Eggs Benedict with 283mg. I understand eggs are considered a high source so that doesn't surprise me with the figure. But.....

I have a cholesterol problem and am trying to lower it without medication. I came across your recipes by doing a search. What is considered HIGH cholesterol content in food when looking at a Nutrition Fact section? Just curious as my doctor really wants me on medication. But every time I take it I feel like crap AND it is so expensive compared to just looking after your dietary intake.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

This can be a confusing issue because your cholesterol is high and the first thought is to eat less cholesterol. Researchers used to think that eating about 300 mg of cholesterol per day was the key to lowering cholesterol. While it is important to be careful, we understand a lot more about this now.

Even though you eat things with cholesterol in them, it's important to know that your body makes its own cholesterol -- about 300 mg per day. Some people make more but most folks with cholesterol problems have difficulty with how the cholesterol is handled in the body.

You can lower your cholesterol by eating less cholesterol or by taking medications to help keep you from absorbing the cholesterol you eat, but you can also take medications that help to shut down the manufacture of your own cholesterol. This is only part of the story, however, because your cholesterol is affected as much by the fats that you eat -- most importantly saturated fat.

The amount of saturated fat is far more important than the amount of cholesterol, because it raises total cholesterol as well as the LDL Cholesterol (the so-called "bad" cholesterol). For this reason most healthy diets don't tend to focus so much on total cholesterol as much as on keeping dietary fat low.

A diet for someone with cholesterol problems would be around 30 grams of fat (depending on variables like gender, height, or weight). Eating a lower ratio of saturated fats to total fats is key. Based on the science we have now, the recommendation is to keep saturated fats to about 1/3 of total fats and monounsaturated fats to about 2/3 of total fats.

There are a lot of things that are high in cholesterol that are good for you. Eggs, for example, have about 250 mg of cholesterol, and they do have about 5 grams of fat in each egg yolk (about 2 grams of this is saturated fat). Liver, shrimp, and lobster are other foods that have a lot of cholesterol. But it is agreed that these are good for you--in moderation and used carefully.

The goal of Dr. Gourmet is balance, which includes eating lower fat and lower saturated fat, while still eating foods that aren't boring or bland. My Eggs Benedict recipe is a good example of this: a regular recipe for Eggs Benedict would have three to four times the amount of fat as in my recipe--and twice the cholesterol. Try the recipe and see if the flavor isn't what you're looking for!

You can eat well and still eat healthy.

Good luck,

Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
Dr. Gourmet