If you enjoy shellfish but are reluctant to eat it because of worries about cholesterol, take heart. Blue mussels, broiled scallops or a fine Maine lobster are actually heart-healthy protein sources. Most shellfish are not only low in cholesterol, but they can also be rich sources of heart-healthy fats.
So how did shellfish end up on the cholesterol blacklist? The April issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter explains that the commonly held view was likely driven by the fact that the nutritional profile of shellfish includes chemical compounds called sterols. Although cholesterol is just one among many sterols, less sophisticated testing methods used in the past grouped all sterols under cholesterol. So, the cholesterol levels for shellfish generally looked high. Now, laboratory tests can differentiate cholesterol from non-cholesterol sterols.
Another benefit: most shellfish are naturally low in total fat. In particular, most are especially low in saturated fats. An added plus for shellfish is the presence of “good” fats called omega-3 fatty acids. Regular consumption of foods that feature omega-3 fats is associated with lower cholesterol levels and reduced risk of heart disease.
So if you’re following a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, don’t hesitate to eat your favorite shellfish -- clams, shrimp, scallops, mussels, crayfish, lobster, crab or oysters. But use healthful cooking methods -- broiling, grilling or steaming. And skip the melted butter or high-fat sauces that can defeat the benefits of this heart-healthy protein.