Setting the Record Straight About Shellfish and Cholesterol

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It’s no secret that cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States — and monitoring cholesterol levels has become important to many health-conscious Americans because it’s a controllable risk factor for heart disease.

But with all of the concern about cholesterol and fat in the diet, it seems that shellfish have gotten a bad reputation as a major source of dietary cholesterol, leading many to reduce their intake of shellfish in order to protect their heart health.

However, cholesterol from our food can basically be ignored. The more important risk factor for elevated cholesterol is excess intake of saturated fat (specifically animal-based saturated fat) — not to mention being overweight, having low dietary fiber and other uncontrollable factors like genetics, age, etc.

Therefore, shellfish, which is low in saturated fat, is a great source heart healthy protein, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is actually a healthy alternative to other meats and poultry.

So, if you like foods such as oysters, crabs and mussels, you’ll be happy to know that shellfish can be incorporated into a heart healthy diet. As they say, there are plenty of fish in the sea, and with a little meal planning, it can be easy to work these foods into a healthy eating plan.

  • Crab: Crab meat is packed with essential fats, nutrients and minerals that the human body needs to function normally. It’s an excellent source of vitamins A, C and B, as well as minerals like copper and phosphorus. We recommend making a homemade crab dip with low fat plain Greek yogurt, reduced fat cream cheese and some spinach or kale for a healthier dish to pass at parties from football season to the holidays.
  • Lobster: Lobster is a rich source of copper and selenium, which plays an important role in preventing damage to cells and tissues. Although, if you're treating yourself to a lobster dinner, go easy on the butter or sauces on the side. Rather, season it with black pepper and lemon juice to help reduce the amount of calories and often high saturated fats that are found in sauces and butter.
  • Shrimp: Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation, triglycerides and blood pressure, all of which are known risk factors in heart disease, and shrimp are a good source of these heart healthy fats. Whether you make kabobs, sautéed shrimp, or throw them into stews, gumbos or soups, shrimp can be a pillar for easy weeknight dinners.
  • Clams, Mussels and Oysters: These raw bar mainstays can be definitely worked into some healthy options at home. Oysters are loaded with iron, B12, phosphorus and zinc, but be mindful of chargrilled oysters, which are loaded with extra calories from the not-so great-fats from butter. Clams are high in iron, selenium and niacin, a B vitamin that has the potential to boost your HDLs (healthy cholesterol) and lower your LDLs (bad cholesterol). Mussels (a type of clam) are high in protein, low in fat and are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Toss some clams or mussels into a skillet with a little olive oil, minced shallot, garlic and cherry tomatoes. Pour in some unsalted stock or white wine and you’ll have a nice clam or mussel "sauce" that can be served over whole grain pasta or spiraled vegetables for a date night dinner at home.

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