Cholesterol is a lipid (fat) molecule, as well as a sterol (modified steroid). It is produced by animals as it is necessary for the maintenance of animal cell walls. The term dietary cholesterol is used to refer to cholesterol present in food, and the term serum cholesterol to refer to the cholesterol molecules present in the human body.

Health considerations

Despite all of its bad press, cholesterol is required for the maintenance of human cell walls. Though high serum cholesterol is a marker for cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, and (North American) diets which are high in cholesterol are also associated to higher risk of CVD, there is no true consensus on the relationship between dietary cholesterol intake and serum cholesterol. A 2012 symposium on dietary cholesterol concluded that the nutritional merit of eggs (high in cholesterol) outweighs any concern over dietary cholesterol, which at present is not associated with increased risk of heart disease, in healthy individuals. Though this may not be the case in unhealthy individuals, as studies in diabetic patients have associated daily egg consumption with an increase in cardiovascular disorder risk.

Keep in mind

Plant-based (vegan) foods inherently do not contain any cholesterol as plants do not produce this substance. 

May be found in

Animal-based products, animal byproducts


Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal
Canadian Journal of Cardiology
Journal of the American Chemical Society

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