Several varieties of crab are used for food, including snow, Alaskan king and Dungeness. Crab legs are boiled or steamed, both of which are healthy cooking methods, but the crab itself contains some cholesterol. The amount is not enough to classify crab as a high-cholesterol food or to categorize crab legs as bad for your cholesterol levels, as long as you do not eat fatty accompaniments with the seafood.
Cholesterol is a substance produced naturally in the human body and found in certain foods, like meat, dairy products and shellfish, such as crab legs. The body needs cholesterol for digestion and to make essential hormones and vitamin D, but too much cholesterol causes problems. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol builds up in your arteries, restricting blood flow and increasing your risk of heart disease, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute warns. Heredity, weight and age affect your cholesterol levels, but your risk increases if you eat a lot of high-cholesterol foods.
Crab legs are cracked open to reach the meat inside, which contains chemicals known as sterols. That chemical group includes cholesterol, notes Mary Calvagna of the Swedish Medical Center, which at one time caused the amount of cholesterol in crab meat to be overestimated. Crab legs actually contain the same amount of cholesterol or less than beef or poultry. For example, the leg of one Alaskan king crab contains 72 milligrams of cholesterol, and a whole Dungeness crab contains 96 milligrams, about the same amount as 4 ounces of chicken breast meat.
Crab legs become a high-cholesterol food when served with common accompaniments, like fatty sauces and melted butter. The meat from crab legs is also used in high-cholesterol dishes, such as pasta with Alfredo sauce, or as a topping for steak Oscar. Eat boiled or steamed crab legs with lemon juice to minimize your cholesterol intake. The juice flavors the meat without adding fat and calories.
You can eat crab legs without problems if you take some dietary precautions. Your total cholesterol intake for a day should not exceed 300 milligrams, so balance crab legs with low-cholesterol foods such as nonfat milk and other dairy products, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans. Lose weight, exercise at least 30 minutes per day, and stop smoking to reduce your cholesterol levels naturally. You may need to take medication if you make dietary and lifestyle changes and still have high cholesterol.