Cholesterol is manufactured in the body to assist with the transportation of fats and to help build and maintain cell membranes. Cholesterol is converted to bile in the liver to be stored in the gallbladder. Bile contains bile salts which aid in the emulsification of fats in the digestive tract to aid in the intestinal absorption of fat molecules as well as the fat-soluble vitamins.
Cholesterol is also important as a precursor for the synthesis of Vitamin D and the steroid hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone and the sex hormones progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone.
The intake of cholesterol itself from foods is not thought to be an important factor in the development of coronary heart disease, except for a minority of people who are particularly sensitive to cholesterol intake. It is believed that total fat intake, especially of saturated fat and trans fats, plays a larger role in blood cholesterol levels than intake of dietary cholesterol itself.
Cholesterol is only found in animal products, not in plant products. The average daily consumption of cholesterol in the UK is 400 mg for men and 300 mg for women. Foods rich in cholesterol include fish oils, eggs, liver and butter.