What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is needed by our body in order to perform many important functions. Some of these include the production of hormones, production of bile acids and as part of our cell walls. Our body produces the majority of cholesterol and the remainder comes from diet.
Despite it’s important role within the body, too much of the wrong type of cholesterol (LDL) can increase the risk of heart disease. This article outlines the connection between shellfish and cholesterol.
Is shellfish detrimental to cholesterol levels?
The idea that seafood (namely shell fish) is bad for you due to its cholesterol content is more myth than truth. Yes, shellfish does naturally contain cholesterol and some have higher contents than other foods, however is it not necessary to eliminate from your diet – here is why:
- With advances in measuring techniques, it has been discovered that most fish and shell fish only contain a low to moderate cholesterol content –contradictory to what was previously thought. Prawns are the exception here and do contain higher levels of cholesterol.
- The main culprit of high blood cholesterol levels is saturated fat. Seafood is very low in saturated fat! For this reason, it is now accepted as part of low cholesterol diets.
- Shellfish contain compounds known as sterols – cholesterol sterols and non cholesterol sterols. Non cholesterol sterols are actually linked with a reduction in the risk of heart disease as they reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed by the body. Clams, scallops, oysters and mussels have been found to have the highest levels of sterols. The omega 3 content of seafood as well works to reduce the risk of heart disease.
The table below summarises the content of cholesterol sterols and non-cholesterol sterols in different shellfish. Those with a cholesterol content below 80mg/100g can be incorporated as part of a lower cholesterol diet. Seafood with cholesterol levels >80mg/100g (shrimp/prawn and squid) should be eaten in moderation. Lobster is also higher in cholesterol but not included in the table.
Types of sterols in shellfish (milligrams/100grams of shellfish)
The verdict about shellfish and cholesterol
Seafood is a very healthy addition to the diet and it is recommended 2 – 3 times per week. It is very possible to incorporate seafood in to your diet and still maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels. In fact, it may even help in lowering your LDL cholesterol levels due the sterols present.
Major risk factors for high cholesterol levels:
- Being overweight or obese
- A family history of high cholesterol levels
- A diet high in saturated fat
The most important dietary tips for managing cholesterol levels are:
Reduce intake of foods high in saturated fat and replace them with moderate amounts of mono and poly unsaturated fats instead
- Avoid excessive intake of foods that are rich in cholesterol. Shellfish that has higher cholesterol content can still be eaten in moderation.
- Eat more fibre rich foods
- Keep physically active
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have diet related questions or if you want healthy eating advice, Contact us today!