Although you need cholesterol to produce hormones and the bile acids needed for digestion, high cholesterol significantly increases your risk of heart disease. More than 30 percent of Americans have high levels of LDL, or "bad," cholesterol, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your body synthesizes approximately 75 percent of your cholesterol; the remaining 25 percent comes from animal foods, including oysters.
Cholesterol on the Half Shell
A 3-ounce serving of cooked Pacific oysters contains 85 milligrams of cholesterol. This amount is 28 percent of the 300 milligrams of cholesterol that the American Heart Association recommends a healthy adult should limit herself to each day. If you have high blood cholesterol or heart disease, you should have no more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol daily, and a serving of Pacific oysters would fulfill 42 percent of that amount. Farmed or wild Eastern oysters contain less cholesterol per serving: Farmed Eastern oysters have 32 milligrams in every 3 ounces, and wild Eastern oysters have 53 milligrams.
Comparison to Other Foods
Pacific oysters contain about as much cholesterol in 3 ounces as a serving of cooked swordfish, 3 ounces of beef tenderloin steak, 3 ounces of beef chuck short ribs and 1 cup of grated mozzarella or Parmesan cheese. A serving of farmed or wild Eastern oysters is similar in cholesterol content to cooked pork shoulder or tenderloin, fish such as salmon or rainbow trout, ricotta cheese and mussels. All types of oysters contain less cholesterol per serving than shellfish such as shrimp and lobster.
Hold the Fat
Oysters can be part of a healthy diet as long as you're careful to control your fat intake in addition to your cholesterol consumption. A diet high in total fat, saturated fat and trans fats can cause you to have elevated cholesterol, especially elevated LDL cholesterol. Oysters are low in total and saturated fat and do not contain any trans fats. A 3-ounce serving of oysters meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for extra-lean animal protein because they provide less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 5 grams of total fat and 2 grams of saturated fat per serving.
Preparation is Key
Oysters can be eaten raw or cooked, though to keep your cholesterol and fat intake as low as possible, bake, broil, grill or steam oysters instead of sauteing or deep-frying them. Choose low-fat seasonings like vinegar, hot sauce or lemon juice instead of butter or white sauce prepared from full-fat milk. If you purchase canned oysters, check the nutrition label carefully -- some commercial brands of smoked oysters packed in oil may contain as much as 9 grams of fat and 4 grams of saturated fat per serving
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Cholesterol
- Harvard Medical School Health Publications: Understanding Cholesterol: The Good, the Bad, and the Necessary
- American Heart Association: About Cholesterol
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Mollusks, Oyster, Pacific, Cooked, Moist Heat
- American Heart Association: Know Your Fats
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Mollusks, Oyster, Farmed, Cooked, Dry Heat
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Mollusks, Oyster, Eastern, Wild, Cooked, Dry Heat
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Nutrient Lists – Cholesterol
- Cleveland Clinic: How to Lower Your Cholesterol
- Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Alerts: A Guide to Choosing Lean Meats and Poultry
- NutritionRank: Smoked Canned Oysters