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If you’re like many of my clients, you might be turning to fitness and nutrition to improve your health and, specifically, to lower your cholesterol.
Even my own father-in-law was advised to follow a “heart-healthy” diet and start exercising by his doctor to help manage his cholesterol levels.
Whey protein seemed like a great way to fuel his more active lifestyle until he noticed the cholesterol content on the label.
So, is the cholesterol in whey protein powder bad? The cholesterol in whey protein powder is not bad. On average, it has only 15-70 mg of cholesterol per 30g, which isn’t a significant amount. The cholesterol content in food is also less important than other factors such as saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars. Whey protein powder is low in all of these.
You might be surprised to learn that there are no current dietary guidelines for cholesterol intake.
That said, even though whey protein powder is generally low in cholesterol, it is important to understand how it can fit into an overall balanced diet.
In this article, I’ll discuss:
- The connection between whey protein and cholesterol
- Whether or not whey protein can cause high cholesterol
- Cholesterol content of different types of protein powder
- Whether protein powder is recommended when you have high cholesterol
Cholesterol & Whey Protein: What’s the Connection?
Because whey protein is made from milk, and milk contains both cholesterol and saturated fat, whey protein also contains cholesterol. The saturated fat content can also promote more cholesterol production in your liver. However, whey protein has very little saturated fat, so this effect is minimal.
The cholesterol found in your body comes from two sources: your liver and your diet. Researchers are now realizing that the cholesterol made in the liver is much more significant than any dietary source of cholesterol.
On the other hand, eating too much saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium can cause the liver to produce more cholesterol than the body needs.
Eating too much added sugar (specifically fructose, the naturally occurring form of sugar in fruits and vegetables) can also result in higher increases in cholesterol. Fructose isn’t a problem when it’s eaten as part of a whole fruit, but high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other concentrated forms of fructose can cause higher cholesterol levels.
Key Takeaway: Even though whey protein powder contains some cholesterol, the process for making it removes nearly all of the fat (and sugar) from milk. It is also low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium, and many brands are low in added sugars. Therefore, whey protein powder alone is unlikely to impact your body’s cholesterol levels
Cholesterol in Different Types of Whey Protein Powder
The below table shows the cholesterol content of different types of whey protein powder. Since cholesterol is only found in animal products, plant-based sources of protein (such as hemp, pea, or soy) do not contain any cholesterol.
The cholesterol content of your whey protein powder may vary depending on which brand you buy. However, the numbers below are in line with what you’d typically see in most whey protein powders.
As I stated earlier, too much-saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars can cause the liver to produce too much cholesterol, which is why I’ve also included these figures in the table.
|Images||Type of Whey Protein Powder||Calories |
|Sodium (mg) per 30g||Sodium (mg) per 30g||Sugar (g) per 30g|
|Cholesterol (mg) per 30g||Saturated fat (g) per 30g||Sodium (mg) per 30g||Sugar (g) per 30g|
|Whey Protein Isolate||15mg||0g||120mg||0g|
|Milk Protein Concentrate||20mg||0g||35mg||2g|
|Whey Protein Concentrate||70mg||1.5g||65mg||1g|
*Protein blend contains whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, hydrolyzed whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate, micellar casein, and milk protein concentrate.
How Much Cholesterol Is “Low-Cholesterol”?
For a food to be considered low in cholesterol, it must have 60mg or less per serving. For foods with smaller serving sizes (30g or less), the limit is 1.2mg of cholesterol per gram of food. For a 30g serving size (which is a common serving size for protein powders), this means 36mg of cholesterol.
Prior to 2015, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) included a recommendation of no more than 300mg of cholesterol per day in their Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Many sources still refer to this outdated recommendation. However, the Dietary Guidelines no longer include a recommendation for dietary cholesterol.
This is because there isn’t evidence showing that reducing your dietary cholesterol intake will reduce the cholesterol levels measured in your blood, specifically the “bad” kind of cholesterol (LDL). LDL is the type that can build up inside arteries and lead to a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.
Instead of focusing on a specific dietary cholesterol target, the AHA and ACC now recommend adopting a healthy dietary pattern overall, with a focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean protein sources, nuts, seeds, and liquid vegetable oils.
The AHA also recommends that the best way to lower your cholesterol is to reduce your intake of saturated fat and trans fat. Only 5-6% of total daily calories should come from saturated fat.
Based on this recommendation, if you eat 2000 calories a day, you should eat no more than 13g of saturated fat.
- Related Article: High Calorie Low Saturated Fat Foods
Can You Still Take Protein Powder If You Have High Cholesterol?
Yes, you can still take protein powder if you have high cholesterol. In fact, supplementing with whey protein powder can lower cholesterol (and blood pressure), according to this study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
When it comes to any health or fitness goal, all foods can and should be part of an overall balanced diet, especially when they are foods you enjoy. The key is to focus on the overall “dietary pattern,” meaning the foods that you eat on a regular basis.
This lines up with the AHA/ACC recommendation discussed above, including consuming lean protein.
Protein powder is an excellent source of lean protein. But I recommend that my clients aim for no more than a third of their daily protein intake to come from protein powder, with the rest coming from whole food sources of protein.
For most people, this means no more than 1-2 servings of protein powder per day (providing 25-50g of protein).
Important note: As mentioned earlier, added sugars in the form of High-Fructose Corn Syrup can cause increased cholesterol production in the liver. Most whey protein powder brands contain little to no added sugar, but check your labels to ensure sugar hasn’t been added.
What Whey Protein Powder Is Best for High Cholesterol?
The best whey protein powder for high cholesterol is one that is low in saturated fat and does not have added sugars.
Here are my top three recommendations:
- Ascent Native Fuel Whey Protein Powder (Read my review – Ascent Whey Protein Review: Is It A Good Option For Athletes?)
What To Read Next
- Whey Protein Foods: 10 Foods Naturally Rich In Whey Protein
- Does Whey Protein Have Lactose & Can You Drink It?
- What Is Amino Acid Spiking and Should You Be Worried About It?
- Does Whey Protein Have Calcium?
- Is Protein Powder Acidic or Alkaline?
- Does Protein Powder Have Iron?
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.