Shellfish: Good or Bad?

Once taken off the menu for being too high in cholesterol, it turns out that shellfish can be a tasty part of a heart healthy diet.

Doctors and other health experts used to warn folks away from clams, shrimp, crab and other shellfish because they were too high in cholesterol. Turns out that shellfish can still be a tasty part of a heart-healthy diet.

What Are Shellfish?

When someone says "shellfish," they usually mean clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, shrimp, crab and lobster. Ranging in size, species and price, these sea creatures are served raw, steamed, grilled, baked or fried in various cuisines around the world.

Bad Reputation

When we started zeroing in on cholesterol in our food, shellfish (and eggs) made it on the do-not-eat list. Nutrition analysis has since revealed that this seafood doesn’t contain as much cholesterol as we once believed.

Shellfish contain a combination of dietary cholesterol and similar compounds called sterols, which won’t negatively affect your heart. Since it’s okay to get some cholesterol from food, enjoying sensible portions of lobster, shrimp or other shellfish is fine -- even if you’re watching your cholesterol.

Of course, it's common to dip shellfish, especially lobster, in melted butter. Well, that will certainly increase the unhealthy fats and negatively impact your diet. Instead, opt for freshly squeezed lemon juice or dip your shellfish pieces in some cocktail sauce.

Good News for Seafood Lovers

In general, the daily amount of cholesterol you should get from food is 300 milligrams. While shellfish has more cholesterol than other animal proteins, their numbers are definitely doable in your daily diet -- 3 ounces of lobster or 19 small clams have about 60 milligrams and 15 large shrimp weigh in at about 166 milligrams.

Plus, shellfish have lots of other benefits that can outweigh that. They are high in protein, very low in fat (and especially low in saturated fats, which can affect cholesterol levels in an unhealthy way) and contain good omega-3 fats, which can actually help lower your cholesterol.

Bottom Line: Steamed, baked or grilled shellfish make terrific lean protein options. Pass on the butter and fried stuff, and enjoy shellfish in moderation and there's nothing to fear.

    Healthy shellfish recipes:
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