Many people mistakenly think that a low cholesterol diet means having to forego seafood. Seafood, especially shellfish, is thought to have high cholesterol levels. However, I always encourage my clients to include seafood in their diet for weight loss and for lowering fat intake for a number of reasons.
1. Seafood contains all nine essential amino acids (proteins that our body needs but cannot manufacture ourselves).
The protein in seafood is also easy to digest. Seafood is also an excellent source of the B complex vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, iodine, phosphorus, and selenium. Fresh seafood is also low in sodium for those who are concerned about their sodium intake.
2. Seafood is low in calories. Most varieties of seafood provide only 100 – 200 calories per 3 1/2 ounces, whereas meat products would double the calories. If you need to lose weight, replacing your red meat intake with seafood a few times a week will help.
3. Seafood is low in fat. Most varieties of finfish and shellfish contain less than 2.5% total fat, and even the fattiest fish such as Atlantic mackerel and King salmon have no more than 15% fat, which is comparable to the fat content of lean meat. Usually, the lighter the color of the flesh, the leaner is the specie.
4. Seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Many fish oils are composed of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA which our body needs. Omega-3 fatty acids help to lower the LDL (the evil cholesterol) that deposits cholesterol along the artery walls. It also lowers the triglycerides, another type of fat involved in heart disease.
5. Many seafood products are low in cholesterol. Contrary to common belief, cholesterol levels are not significant in most seafood products. Finfish are low in cholesterol and shellfish have low to moderate amounts. Our US dietary goal is to control our cholesterol consumption to about 300 mg a day. Fish averages about 50-90 mg cholesterol per 3 1/2 ounces; crab, lobsters, shrimp contains 60-100 mg per 3 1/2ounces, which are similar to that found in the dark meat of chicken. Watch out for Squid and Octopus, though, since they do contain high levels of cholesterol, 250 and 122 mg per 3 1/2ounces respectively.
6. Seafood has no trans fat. Because shell fish has no trans fat and very little saturated fat (both are known to raise our blood cholesterol), they are no longer excluded from typical low cholesterol diets. In order to get the health benefits from seafood, try to include at least 1-2 fish dishes a week. Use cooking methods such as grilling, broiling, poaching, steaming, and baking are all healthy ways to prepare your seafood dishes.