Cholesterol is needed to make all the cell walls in your body as well as certain types of hormones, but high blood levels are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis. Some types of seafood, particularly shellfish, are high in cholesterol, although cholesterol-measuring techniques often provide conflicting results. Future research may vindicate the overall health benefits of eating moderate amounts of shellfish such as shrimp and lobster, but until then, focus more on eating seafood that’s low in cholesterol.
The average daily consumption of cholesterol by American men is about 350 milligrams, whereas American women consume an average of about 240 milligrams each day. Nutritional and health guidelines typically recommend that 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day should be the upper limit consumed for either gender regardless of size, but that amount drops to 200 milligrams daily for people who have been diagnosed with high blood cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of seafood a week to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, although the group specifically recommends fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and not high-cholesterol seafood such as squid, octopus, shrimp or lobster.
Low Cholesterol Fish
Fish is considered by nutritionists to be a fairly low-cholesterol source of protein. Good examples that are also high in omega-3 fatty acids include mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, tilapia and halibut. The amount of cholesterol in fish depends on the species and the environment in which the fish live. The amount of cholesterol in a 3.5-ounce baked or grilled fish fillet ranges from about 50 to 90 milligrams. For comparison, a 3.5-ounce serving of grilled chicken breast contains about 85 milligrams of cholesterol. Fried or battered fish contains considerably more cholesterol due to the addition of butter or other fats.
Low Cholesterol Shellfish
Shellfish usually contain more cholesterol than deep-sea fish, but the differences between specific examples are sometimes negligible. For example, 3.5 ounces of baked or steamed clams have between 50 and 60 milligrams of cholesterol, which is less than the same portion of salmon. Mussels contain about as much cholesterol as clams, although oysters and scallops contain slightly more on average. Crab may not be as high in cholesterol as you think, as 3.5 ounces contain about 80 milligrams. Shrimp is probably the shellfish with the most cholesterol. For example, 3.5 ounces of shrimp can have as much as 150 milligrams of cholesterol.
If you enjoy fish and other types of seafood but are on a low-cholesterol diet, cut back on adding any rich sauces or toppings. Butter and cream-based seafood sauces and dips are usually very high in cholesterol. Instead, opt for lemon juice, herbs and pepper. Always bake, broil or grill your seafood and avoid frying or sauteing it. Allowing some of the fat to escape during cooking lowers the cholesterol levels.
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
- Superfoods: The Healthiest Foods on the Planet; Tonia Reinhard
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.