For decades, dietary cholesterol was on the "eat as little as possible" list, along with saturated fat. That's because health experts believed that different foods and seafood high in cholesterol could increase your risk of heart disease.
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However, after getting a deeper understanding of how dietary cholesterol works, the original recommendations to limit dietary cholesterol to no more than 300 milligrams per day has disappeared from the dietary guidelines. That's because most health experts now agree that the cholesterol in shrimp isn't so bad.
Dietary cholesterol is no longer considered a nutrient of concern. Although shrimp contains significant amounts of cholesterol, most of the cholesterol in your body is made from your liver. The cholesterol you eat doesn't have a huge effect on your cholesterol levels.
Shrimp and Cholesterol
A 4-ounce serving of shrimp contains 116 milligrams of cholesterol. Other types of seafood high in cholesterol include crab — cholesterol is almost the same as shrimp at 109 milligrams for 4 ounces—clams and lobster.
But even though shrimp is fairly high in cholesterol compared to other types of seafood and meat, it's not necessary to limit it in your diet. Dietary cholesterol used to be something that health experts recommended you limit as much as possible, but that tune changed with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
While there used to be a daily upper limit of 300 milligrams for dietary cholesterol, that recommendation was removed when the guidelines were revamped in 2015. That's because as newer research emerged, experts realized dietary cholesterol wasn't as bad as previously thought. In fact, Harvard Health Publishing notes that cholesterol is vital to a healthy body, since cholesterol:
- Acts as the main building block for cell membranes.
- Forms the protective covering around your nerve fibers.
- Is needed to make testosterone, estrogen, bile acids and vitamin D.
To understand why the cholesterol in shrimp isn't so bad, it's helpful to understand cholesterol's connection to heart disease and how much actually comes from your diet.
Read more: What is the Nutritional Value of Shrimp?
Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to a June 2018 report in Nutrients, the major underlying cause of heart disease is a buildup of cholesterol deposits in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Since cholesterol deposits in the arteries are connected with heart disease, it seems logical that you should reduce the amount of cholesterol in your diet.
While that used to be the school of thought, newer research shows that dietary cholesterol doesn't have as much of an effect on blood cholesterol levels as previously thought. That's because your body tightly regulates the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
In a Cleveland Clinic interview with cardiologist Steven Nissen, MD, Dr. Nissen points out that about 85 percent of the cholesterol in your body is actually made by your liver and that the cholesterol in your diet only has a minimal effect.
The Nutrient of Concern
Dr. Nissen goes on to say that while dietary cholesterol isn't too much of a concern, you should be wary of how many trans fats are in your diet, since these types of fats do contribute to high blood cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease.
Trans fats are especially dangerous because they not only increase small particle LDL that's linked with heart disease, they also decrease HDL cholesterol — the "good" kind of cholesterol that helps protect your heart health, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Fortunately, shrimp doesn't have significant levels of trans fat naturally, but you have to be careful about how it's prepared. If you're opting for battered, deep-fried shrimp, the oil involved in the cooking process can add some trans fats to the nutrition facts. Your best bet is boiled, sautéed, steamed, grilled or baked shrimp cooked in healthy oils or fats, like coconut oil, olive oil or grass-fed butter.
Is This an Emergency?
- USDA FoodData Central: "Crab, Hard Shell, Steamed"
- Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter: "Can You Get Jumbo Benefits From Eating Shrimp?"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: "Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- Nutrients: "Dietary Cholesterol and the Lack of Evidence in Cardiovascular Disease"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Why You Should No Longer Worry About Cholesterol in Food"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Shrimp, Steamed or Boiled"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Panel Suggests That Dietary Guidelines Stop Warning About Cholesterol in Food"
- Mayo Clinic: "Trans Fat Is Double Trouble for Your Heart Health"