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15 Worst Foods for High Cholesterol

Whether you have high cholesterol or you're currently at healthy levels, it's worth it to minimize these foods in your diet.

If you were told that you have high cholesterol, know that you are not alone—nearly 1 in 3 adults in the US suffer from this condition. Although common, elevated cholesterol levels over time can put your body at risk for some major outcomes, like heart disease and stroke.

The saying "you are what you eat" can be applied to the case of raising or lowering cholesterol levels. While is true that genetics play a large role in your cholesterol levels, dietary and lifestyle choices can have a large impact as well.

So, how do you know which foods are on the naughty list and which get the green-light when it comes to managing cholesterol? "People with high cholesterol should aim to limit or avoid excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils, and saturated fats," explains Lexi Endicott, RD, LD, a Texas-based registered dietitian. She explains that all of these nutrients increase the risk of further increasing cholesterol, and adds that they also may "bump out the more nutritious options, such as fiber-containing complex carbohydrates and healthy fats/oils with monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids."

Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, explains that instead of eating high saturated fat, high cholesterol choices, those who wish to manage their cholesterol should "switch to more healthful plant choices, such as beans, lentils, peas, tofu, with lots of vegetables and whole grains, for meals." She suggests using extra virgin olive oil as cooking oil in the kitchen and adding healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and avocados.

No food is off-limits every single day of the year, and an occasional cheeseburger or doughnut won't make or break your health. But in general, these are 15 foods that should only be making their appearances on your plate in moderation, if at all. Read on, and for more on keeping your health in check, don't miss 17 Foods That Lower Cholesterol.

Coconut oil

coconut oil with spoon

Coconut oil has been a hot topic these days, and while it sounds healthy, it is not the best fat choice when it comes to cholesterol management. According to Palmer, "coconut and palm fat is high in saturated fat, so keeping these food choices to a minimum is important."

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bacon slices closeup

Palmer shares that foods high in saturated fat, like bacon and other fatty meats, should be avoided when managing high cholesterol. Plant-based protein sources are a better choice, like these 26 Best Vegetarian Sources of Protein.

Fatty pork sausage

pork sausages

Fatty pork products, like certain sausages, should be extremely limited when managing high cholesterol according to Briana Baker, MS, RD, LD, ACE-CHC, a Texas-based registered dietitian. She suggests replacing these fatty meats with lean options such as lean pork like pork loin.

White Bread

white bread

Endicott explains that among the foods that people with high cholesterol should avoid, refined carbohydrates such as white bread are one of the most important. Instead, opt for fiber-rich foods like whole-grain bread and whole wheat pasta. Speaking of carbs, are you aware of the 8 Side Effects of Eating Too Many Carbs?

Frozen Pizza

frozen pizza

Some (not all) frozen pizzas are a hot spot when it comes to trans fats. As Theresa Gentile, MS, RDN, a Brooklyn-based registered dietitian explains, "those with high cholesterol should avoid foods with trans fats, which raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol. This can increase chances of heart disease." Take a quick nutrition-label check before you settle on your frozen pizza-of-choice.

RELATEDThe Unhealthiest Frozen Pizzas You Can Buy

Rib Eye Steak

Ribeye steak

Christa Brown, MS, RDN, a New York-based registered dietitian, does not recommend avoiding foods, but rather limiting them when managing high cholesterol. She explains that "those who have high cholesterol should limit, rather than avoid completely high fat cuts of beef such as ground beef, skirt steak, rib eye—any of the cuts that have the white marbling on the outside."

If you crave red meat, choose leaner cuts of meat, make sure your portion sizes are in-check, or blend ground beef with a plant-based option like chopped mushrooms.



If you are taking certain cholesterol-lowering drugs, grapefruit can be one of the worst foods you can eat. Not because it may increase cholesterol levels, but because it can negatively interact with your medication. If you are on a cholesterol-lowering drug, ask your doctor if you should be avoiding grapefruit before you indulge in the sweet-tart treat.

Movie Theater Popcorn

movie theater popcorn

Popcorn and movie viewing go together like peanut butter and jelly. But many popcorns made outside of the home are loaded with saturated fats and don't have oodles of heart-healthy fats. Opt for air-popped popcorn for that satisfying crunch without the unhealthy fat.

Regular soda

pouring coke soda into glass

Data suggests that as sugar intake increases, HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) decreases while triglycerides increase. If you trying to avoid drinks that are made with 100% added sugars, then regular soda (or pop for you Midwesterners) should be on the chopping block. Sip on plain old water instead.


buttering bread

You may want to go easy on butter when you are trying to lower your cholesterol. Enjoy alternatives like extra virgin olive oil or even butter substitutes instead to help keep your heart healthy.

Chicken wings

fried chicken wings on plate with white dipping sauce
Alexander Prokopenko/Shutterstock

Chicken wings are often fried, served with the fatty skin on, and are tossed in a sauce made of melted butter and spice: a trifecta of cholesterol-raising factors. Choose baked and skinless wings, and sprinkle them with a salt-free dry rub instead of a buttery sauce for a more heart-friendly choice.

Fried French fries

french fries

Fast-food French fries are one of the worst foods to eat when you are managing high cholesterol. They are fried, often in hydrogenated oils, and don't offer much in terms of the nutrition department. If you are craving a crunchy fry-like treat, try baked sweet potato fries – just as delicious, but much better for your overall health.


plate of southern biscuits
Montana Isabella/Shutterstock

A Southern staple, biscuits are loaded with saturated fat and are low in cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. Shoot for whole-grain toast—we have a list of the 9 Best Store-Bought Breads, According to Experts—for a morning bread instead.

Pie crust

Pre made thanksgiving pies

If your secret family recipe for pie crust calls for lard, skip it, as lard is one of the worst things you can eat for your heart health. Try crushed graham crackers as a crust, or better yet, go crustless all together!

Artificial Sweeteners

artificial sweetener

Calorie-free sweeteners may add some flavor to your sweet-treats, but using them has been linked to a higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular events. Leave them out of your diet if you have high cholesterol, but there are other reasons, too: What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Artificial Sweeteners.

Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC
Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian, book author, and recipe developer who has been in practice for almost 20 years. Read more about Lauren
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