Is it okay to eat shellfish if you have a high cholesterol level? Does eating shellfish increase your risk for heart disease? Find out.
If you have a high cholesterol level, some well meaning people may have advised you to avoid shellfish. This is because shellfish such as shrimp, crab, lobster, and clams are naturally high in cholesterol which could raise the risk of heart disease. If you’re a shellfish lover with a high cholesterol level, should you give up eating shellfish?
Eating Shellfish: The Cholesterol Issue
Most shellfish contain moderate amounts of cholesterol with shrimp having the highest quantities. On the other hand, most shellfish such as lobster, crab, and shrimp are very low in fat which is ultimately more important in terms of heart disease risk – unless you’re eating lots of other cholesterol rich foods. It’s saturated fat and trans fats that cause the most problems for people at high risk for heart disease, and shellfish has very little of these unhealthy fats.
What about Heart Disease?
A study done at the University of South Caroline showed that adults who ate shellfish such as shrimp, lobster, and crab on a frequent basis had no higher risk of heart disease than people who ate little or none of these foods. Another small study showed that none of the shellfish tested caused elevated cholesterol levels in a group of eighteen men. Some of the shellfish even had positive benefits in terms of heart disease risk by raising levels of HDL (the good cholesterol). The researchers concluded that eating shellfish is safe for people who are trying to lower their cholesterol level with the exception of shrimp since it has higher levels of natural cholesterol than other shellfish. Another large study that looked at over 13,000 middle-aged and older adults found no association between heart attacks and eating shellfish. Good news for the shellfish lovers of the world!
Are There Positive Benefits to Eating Shellfish?
Most shellfish is low in calories and relatively filling and some are beneficial to the heart because they contain omega-3 fatty acids which help to lower triglyceride levels. The shellfish with the highest levels of these heart-healthy omega-3’s is crab. Shellfish are also a good source of protein, B vitamins, and iron.
What About Risks?
Since shellfish are filter feeders they may harbor bacteria that can lead to food borne illness unless they’re cooked properly. Never eat shellfish raw. Most shellfish are relatively low in mercury, but can accumulate heavy metals when harvested from some waters.
The Bottom Line?
Eating shellfish is safe for most people who have high cholesterol levels as long as it’s part of an overall heart healthy diet. It may be best to limit shellfish consumption to no more than twice a week to reduce the risk of exposure to heavy metals and other potential contaminants – although this is not a problem in all areas. If you have a high cholesterol level, eat shrimp in moderation since it has more cholesterol than other shellfish. The good news is that eating shellfish can be part of an overall heart healthy diet, but always talk to your doctor before eating large amounts of any food.