For years most of us mistakenly believed that we should avoid shellfish due to its high cholesterol level. People with diabetes were wrongly advised to avoid shellfish.
However, the most influential component of the diet on blood cholesterol turns out to be the amount of saturated fat the food contains rather than the amount of actual cholesterol. Cholesterol is a type of fat made by our liver as part of the general metabolic process. A certain amount of cholesterol is essential for good health but too much cholesterol in the blood results in fatty deposits. These can block arteries resulting in heart disease and stroke.
Shellfish is very low in saturated fat and a good source of healthy omega-3. It can contribute to the maintenance of a healthy heart diet. The naturally low content of total fat in shellfish, which is particularly low in saturated fat, has also the added bonus of good omega-3 fats. This is just the sort of diet recommended for people with diabetes in order to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Studies show that a healthy low saturated diet lowers cholesterol levels, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease. The main sources of saturated fat in the diet generally come from fatty or processed meat, full fat diary products such as cream, cheese, butter and any foods made from these such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies and some desserts.
If you have been advised to reduce your cholesterol level then replacing these foods in your diet with low saturated fat alternatives would be a good start. Seafood in the form of crustaceans (prawns, crabs and lobsters) or molluscs (mussels, clams, oysters or scallops) contains very little saturated fat and in most people would not cause a rise in blood cholesterol. These foods do not need to be avoided; they are relatively low in calories and contain the good fats, omega-3. They are a heart healthy option.
However, do bear in mind cooking methods. Frying seafood in high saturated fat butter may undo the good of switching to these low saturated fat foods.
Steaming muscles, clams or scallops maintains the healthy option, grilling prawns or lobster rather than frying does the same. Choosing olive oil over butter for frying or skipping high fat sauces with the seafood will also be important dietary choices for maintaining the obvious benefits of seafood in contributing to a balanced diet.
A note of caution should be remembered for the small number of people who have high blood cholesterol caused by the genetic conditions Familial Hypercholesterolemia and Familial Combined Hyperlipidaemia. In these people managing dietary cholesterol is much more critical as they are very sensitive to even small amounts of dietary fat including the cholesterol content.