Seafood high in cholesterol includes shellfish such as lobster and shrimp. However, studies have shown that dietary cholesterol does not have negative effects on heart health. Despite the high cholesterol in some types of seafood, it may actually help to raise the good cholesterol in your blood.
Role of Cholesterol
Cholesterol can have a bad reputation, but the truth is that cholesterol is essential to your health. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that plays an essential structural role in cell membranes and is necessary for the body to make bile, vitamin D and hormones like testosterone and estrogen, notes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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Your liver produces all the cholesterol you need to fulfill these essential functions, making dietary cholesterol unnecessary. It is transported throughout your body by two types of lipoproteins: low-density and high-density.
Low-density lipoproteins transport cholesterol created in the liver to the body's arteries and tissues. Cholesterol associated with low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, is referred to as "bad" cholesterol and is associated with heart disease.
Cholesterol associated with high-density lipoproteins, or HDL cholesterol, is the "good" form of cholesterol. HDL cholesterol functions to clear extra cholesterol from the arteries and tissues and returns it to the liver to be broken down and expelled from the body.
Read more: What Is a Dangerous Cholesterol Level?
Dietary Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Dietary cholesterol is only found in animal-based products. This includes meat and seafood, egg yolks and dairy products, including milk. It was once believed that eating foods high in cholesterol would raise the cholesterol levels in your body an increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. However, studies have not shown any link between dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, notes Dr. Ghada Soliman in her review published in the June 2018 edition of Nutrients.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommended limiting cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day. However, due to the lack of evidence that dietary cholesterol has negative health effects, this recommendation has been removed from the USDA's current 2015 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
There is a correlation between saturated fats and cardiovascular disease and saturated fats have been shown to increase your LDL cholesterol levels, advises Colorado State University Extension. Since many foods that are high in saturated fats are also high in cholesterol, it is a good idea to limit your intake of these foods. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting less than 10 percent of your calories from saturated fats.
Seafood High in Cholesterol
The amount of cholesterol in seafood varies widely. Crustaceans tend to have the highest cholesterol levels. Here are the cholesterol levels for a one-ounce serving of different types of crustaceans, according to the USDA:
- Cooked shrimp has 59.8 milligrams of cholesterol
- Cooked lobster has 41.4 milligrams of cholesterol
- Crab has 29.8 milligrams of cholesterol
Mollusks, such as scallops, have cholesterol levels that are lower than crustaceans. According to the USDA, a one-ounce serving contains:
Cooked clams cholesterol level equals 19 milligrams
cholesterol level equals 11.6 milligrams
The amount of cholesterol in fish varies widely but is generally much lower than the amount of cholesterol found in crustaceans. Below are the cholesterol levels for a one-ounce serving, according to the USDA:
- Wild Atlantic salmon has 20.1 milligrams of cholesterol
- Canned white tuna packed in oil has 8.8 milligrams of cholesterol
- Ahi tuna has 11.3 milligrams of cholesterol
- Cooked tilapia has 16.2 milligrams of cholesterol
- Cooked cod has 17.3 milligrams of cholesterol
Risks and Benefits of Seafood
Adding seafood to your diet may actually help improve your blood cholesterol levels. A study published in the November 2017 edition of Atherosclerosis found that consuming oily fish increased the "good" HDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
Seafood is a good protein source full of nutrients. It is especially known for having high omega-3 fatty acid content including both EPA and DHA, which decreases the risk of heart disease. The USDA recommends that adults eat eight ounces of seafood each week. Seafood may contain the heavy metal mercury, however, the health benefits of fish outweigh the risks of mercury consumption, advises the USDA.
Some low-mercury seafood options include:
Atlantic mackerel and Pacific mackerel
Seafood options that have the highest mercury levels, according to the FDA, include:
- King mackerel
- Bigeye tuna
Maintaining Healthy Cholesterol Levels
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults have their blood cholesterol levels checked every four to six years. More frequent testing may be recommended if you have a family history of heart disease, are overweight or have type 2 diabetes.
Healthy blood cholesterol levels according to the CDC are:
Total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol of less than 100 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol levels greater than 40
There are many lifestyle changes you can make to prevent high cholesterol. Obesity raises LDL cholesterol levels in the body. A doctor can help you determine a healthy weight and develop a diet and fitness plan to reach your goals. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol can also increase the risk of developing high cholesterol.
Men tend to have higher cholesterol levels than women and a woman's chances for developing high cholesterol increases when she is over the age of 55. Other risk factors for high cholesterol, according to the CDC include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Familial hypercholesterolemia, a rare medical condition
- Family history of high cholesterol
A healthy diet can further decrease your risk of developing high cholesterol. Limit your intake of saturated fats and trans fats as these can both raise your blood LDL cholesterol, notes the CDC. Also, avoid added sugars and excess sodium. Select foods such as lean meats and seafood, fat-free and low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables. Be sure to include high-fiber foods like oatmeal and beans in your diet as well.
- FDA: "Cholesterol"
- USDA: "Cooked Clams"
- USDA: "Scallops"
- USDA: "Cooked Shrimp"
- USDA: "Lobster (Cooked)
- USDA: "Wild Atlantic Salmon (Cooked)"
- USDA: "Canned White Tuna (Oil Packed)"
- USDA: "Ahi Tuna"
- USDA: "Cooked Tilapia"
- USDA: "Cooked Cod"
- Nutrients, June 2018: "Dietary Cholesterol and the Lack of Evidence in Cardiovascular Disease"
- USDA: "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- Colorado State Unviersity Extension: "Dietary Fat and Cholesterol"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "How and When to Have Your Cholesterol Checked"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Preventing High Cholesterol"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Knowing Your Risk for High Cholesterol"
- Atherosclerosis, November 2017: "Consumption of Fish and Vascular Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies"
- USDA: "Why Is It Important to Make Lean or Low-Fat Choices From the Protein Foods Group?"
- FDA: "Advice About Eating Fish"
- USDA: "Crab"
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