We’ve all been told that eating seafood is healthy for us, right? Especially baked or grilled fish served up with a good helping of green salad! If your latest medical check-up has revealed you have high cholesterol and your doctor has told you to go on a strict diet, white meats such as fish and chicken are recommended.
Does this mean you can also eat as much seafood as you want? Is seafood high in cholesterol? Firstly, fish does contain cholesterol. Secondly, seafood also contains cholesterol but at different levels depending on what shellfish or sea fish you have on the menu.
What’s more, fish do contain fats which could be a no-no on a strict diet to manage high cholesterol. But, what if we told you that certain fats actually help to manage your cholesterol levels? Read on as we talk about seafood and cholesterol.
What You Need to Know About Cholesterol
Cholesterol is found in your blood. It comes from two sources namely your liver and the food you eat. It’s a fatty substance and helps in breaking down foods, processing Vitamin D, and producing hormones. However, there are two types of cholesterol found in your bloodstream and they are:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This is known as bad cholesterol responsible for causing heart attacks or strokes. It builds up in your blood vessels, reducing the amount of blood flow and resulting in blood clots.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This is good cholesterol responsible for transporting LDL out of your artery system.
When blood tests are taken to determine your cholesterol levels, your doctor is guided by the following figures to determine if you have problems:
- Total cholesterol should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
- LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL.
- HDL cholesterol should be ideally at 60 mg/dL. Higher is acceptable.
What Food Impacts Your Cholesterol Levels?
Food and body weight have an impact on your cholesterol levels. Genetics also plays a role. Foods that contain cholesterol will alter your body’s levels, either in a good or bad way. Dieticians will advise you to avoid foods containing unhealthy fats. These are known as trans and saturated fats.
Saturated fats are naturally found in animal meat and dairy products. You can manage your cholesterol levels by switching over to low-fat meats or dairy. Trans fats are found in foods such as pies, pastries, fried foods, and biscuits. Look out for products that include ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oils or shortening, both typical trans fat products.
Trans and saturated fats increase your LDL cholesterol so minimizing your intake of these foods will help to lower your health risks. On the other hand, foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good for your fats level without having a negative impact on your cholesterol.
Certain fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, rainbow trout, and mackerel contain healthy fats as do avocados, peanut butter, canola and olive oil, nuts and seeds, and tofu. But, what about seafood such as shellfish and other sea fish? Do they fall under the healthy fats category or should they be avoided altogether?
Is Seafood Bad for Your Cholesterol?
Seafood has varying amounts of cholesterol depending on what it is. Not all seafood is bad for your cholesterol. So, it’s about knowing which sea fish and shellfish are suitable for a diet managing high cholesterol.
What Seafood is the Lowest in Cholesterol?
Tuna, salmon, and swordfish are among the lowest in cholesterol. Sardines and halibut are also good options for sea fish with low cholesterol levels. Other sea fish recommended for their healthy fats also known as omega-3 fatty acids are:
- Striped bass
- Black cod
If you wondering, “Is shell seafood is bad for cholesterol?”, note the following shellfish with low levels of saturated fats:
- Raw oysters (when steamed, the cholesterol levels increase)
These types of shellfish can be used as a healthy alternative to finfish when looking for something different to eat on the menu. Serving them in creamy sauces, fried in oils, or loads of melted butter will, however, increase the unhealthy fats.
What Seafood is Highest in Cholesterol?
A doctor or dietician may recommend that you keep your dietary cholesterol consumption below 100 to 300 mg per day. When picking a seafood meal off the menu, note that the following are high in cholesterol:
- Squid: This seafood is highest in cholesterol with over 231 mg per 3.5 ounces of raw squid. If it’s fried or served in a creamy sauce, the unhealthy fats increase exponentially.
- Shrimp: A serving of 3.5 ounces of raw shrimps equal 194 mg of cholesterol. This level increases, depending on method used to cook the shrimps.
When comparing shellfish and sea fish with lower levels, note that 3.5 oz of raw lobster contains 71 mg of cholesterol, salmon has 63 mg, and oysters only have 55 mg. Raw tuna comes in very low at 30 mg of cholesterol per 3.5 oz serving.
Healthy Seafood High in Cholesterol
If your doctor has put you on a diet to watch your cholesterol, you’ll be told to only eat healthy foods. You’ll be warned off foods high in unhealthy fats and dietary cholesterol. But, some medical experts are saying that curbing saturated fats is far more important than cutting out dietary cholesterol.
Doctors used to recommend keeping to below 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day. They now focus more on the unhealthy trans and saturated fats as well as too much sugar in a diet. Picking high cholesterol seafood with low saturated fats is a healthier alternative as long as you don’t go overboard!
Is it Safe to Eat Sardines if I Have High Cholesterol?
Sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats aren’t produced naturally in your body and they’re essential for keeping your triglycerides under check. Large quantities of triglycerides in your bloodstream isn’t good for your heart.
However, a small can of sardines contains over 131 mg of cholesterol so it depends on how much you eat every week to get the right quantity of healthy fats. Dietary experts recommend sticking to two ounces of sardines every week to get the right balance of omega-3 fatty acids without negatively impacting your cholesterol level.
Also Read: Can You Eat Seafood Every Day?
Can I Eat Shrimp if I Have High Cholesterol?
Shrimps are high in cholesterol. A 3.5 oz serving of shrimps contains about 189 mg of cholesterol which is why alarm bells ring when considering them on a strict diet. But, they’re rich in Vitamin B, selenium, zinc, and protein. And, a 3.5 oz serving of shrimp only contains up to 1.5 grams of fat, mostly unsaturated which is good for raising HDL levels.
Studies are showing that eating shrimp in moderation and not fried, isn’t likely to increase cholesterol levels dangerously. Some dietary agencies have even listed shrimp as a healthy food that poses very little risk for cardiovascular diseases. And, by increasing your HDL levels, you’re also dropping the risk of other inflammatory conditions in your body.
Other Benefits of Eating Seafood
There are some other benefits to eating seafood while watching your cholesterol. Here are some things you can consider when deciding to include seafood in your diet:
- Mercury: Picking shellfish over finfish is better if you want to avoid mercury contamination. Mercury consumption is dangerous for pregnant women as well as being bad for brain health, especially in smaller children.
- Calories: Shellfish such as scallops are low in fat as well as calories, making them a suitable substitute for other foods when watching your cholesterol. They’re also low in cholesterol.
- Vitamins and minerals: Shellfish is rich in vitamins such as Vitamin B12. They also contain high levels of trace selenium, an antioxidant mineral, as well as phosphorus, iron, zinc, and calcium
- Protein: Some sea fish such as swordfish is an excellent source of protein. Protein is vital for providing your body with adequate muscle mass while keeping you feeling full after a meal. A single serving of swordfish gives you up to 20 grams of protein. This equates to around 40% of your daily protein requirement.
- Sodium: Finfish is good for controlling blood pressure with most containing low levels of sodium. The same applies to all unprocessed foods which are recommended for managing high blood pressure.
In general, seafood is a healthier alternative to other foods on a strict diet. However, to get the most benefits of eating this type of food, avoid frying, serving in rich creamy sauces, or drenching in butter sauces. Moderation is also key and while most medical experts agree that dietary cholesterol isn’t a high concern, opt for shellfish and finfish with lower levels of cholesterol.
Read More: Does Seafood Cause Gout?
Seafood can be high in cholesterol. But, research is showing that eating shellfish and sea fish with healthy fats is more important than worrying about the cholesterol level. When watching your cholesterol, opt for seafood with high omega-3 fatty acids and saturated fats. This way, you can rest assured your diet is healthy all around.