Shrimp, Scallops And Cholesterol: What You Need To Know

Cholesterol is a waxy fat that travels throughout the body in blood. Your body needs some cholesterol to produce important substances like hormones and vitamin D. Your body makes some cholesterol. However, a large amount of cholesterol comes from food. 

Cholesterol is present in different lipoproteins. The two most commonly known types are high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

HDL is also known as the ‘good’ cholesterol. It carries LDL from the bloodstream to the liver or organs that produce hormones, being eliminated or re-utilized.

LDL, also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol, circulates in the blood to reach cells that need cholesterol for cell repair.¹ You only need a small amount of LDL for this. LDL can be deposited in the arterial walls, forming plaque. This narrows the arteries, raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.

Shrimp is the most consumed seafood in the United States. It is high in cholesterol; however, it has little or no adverse² effects on healthy adults. Shellfish can be included in heart-healthy and low-cholesterol diets. 

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Is shrimp high in cholesterol? 

Shrimp is high in cholesterol. It contains 195mg of cholesterol per 100g serving. However, moderate shrimp consumption is not thought to affect the balance of lipoproteins in healthy adults. This means you can include shrimp in your meals for a heart-healthy diet.

This is because shrimp consumption increases HDL levels — good cholesterol — in the blood more than LDL. High blood levels of HDL increase the amount of LDL that can be removed from the blood to the liver.

However, shrimp must be prepared correctly to be considered a heart-healthy food. It is not recommended to fry shrimp as it can negatively affect your lipid profile (cholesterol balance). 

Additionally, if you are at a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease or already have high cholesterol, you may need to be more careful about shellfish consumption. It is best to discuss shrimp consumption with your doctor in these cases. 

Are scallops high in cholesterol?

If you are worried about the amount of cholesterol in scallops, don’t be. Scallops are low in cholesterol. A 100g serving of all-natural scallops³ contains 53mg of cholesterol. Scallops also have a low amount of saturated fat. 

However, like shrimp, it is crucial to prepare scallops correctly. They may be eaten raw or cooked in a heart-healthy way. Frying is not recommended for maintaining heart health due to the added fat. 

How do shrimp and scallops compare to other types of seafood? 

To understand how shrimp and scallops compare to different types of seafood, take a look at this table. It is in order of the least cholesterol per serving to the highest amount of cholesterol. 

Potential health risks of shrimp and scallops 

Allergies

A shellfish allergy is one of the most common allergies in adults and children. Approximately 2%⁴ of the population has a shellfish allergy. In children, an allergy to shrimp (crustacean allergy) is more common than an allergy to scallops (mollusk allergy). 

Sustainability

Unfortunately, much of the shrimp consumed comes from overseas fisheries that are very unsustainable;⁵ they have heavy human and environmental tolls. Working at sea to catch fish has the second highest on-the-job mortality rate in the United States. 

Additionally, shrimp consumed in the United States predominantly comes from the Mekong region of Southeast Asia. A study found that 19% of young boys trafficked into labor were forced into fisheries. 

Due to the health benefits of seafood, its consumption is encouraged among Americans. This may provide a sustainability issue as further pressure may be put on fish stocks and cause unsustainable aquaculture.

Pollutants 

One of the most widely discussed components of ocean pollution is plastic waste. Plastic waste breaks down into micro- and nano-particles and fibers that are toxic and carcinogenic to sea life⁶ and humans.

Shellfish absorb these particles and fibers, causing these toxins and carcinogens to enter the food chain. When humans consume shellfish, they consequently consume toxins and carcinogens, potentially harming their health. The impact of this is only starting to be researched.

Other prominent pollutants are pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). These products may accumulate in shellfish and affect the health of humans when the shellfish are consumed. 

Storage and preparation 

To avoid being poisoned by shellfish, it is crucial to know how to store and prepare it properly.

Live shellfish storage

If you purchase live shellfish⁷ in their shells, they should be stored in the fridge, in an otherwise empty shallow pan covered with moistened paper towels. If you have fresh shrimp or scallops, you should eat them within a day. 

Prevent food poisoning

Ensuring that juices from raw seafood do not come into contact with other food is essential. When cooking shrimp and scallops, ensure that any food that has already been cooked or is not going to be cooked is not nearby. 

It is also important to properly cook your shellfish to avoid food poisoning. The best way to do this is to measure the temperature of the thickest part of the flesh. Properly cooked shellfish should have an internal temperature of 145°F. Shrimp and scallops will be firm and opaque when fully cooked. 

Toxins 

Harmful algae blooms produce toxins that are harmful to humans, which accumulate in shellfish. These toxins can cause severe neurological impairment and rapid death when ingested by humans. 

These toxins do not have a taste or odor,⁸ and cooking shellfish does not remove these toxins. It’s also important to ensure you get your shellfish from a reliable source. 

Shrimp and scallops' health benefits 

Shrimp and scallops have several health advantages. Including a moderate amount of shrimp and scallops in your diet may be beneficial.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are the ‘good’ fats. Shrimp contains high amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and small amounts of saturated fats (the ‘bad’ fats). Scallops are also low in saturated fats.

Because of this, shrimp and scallops may improve cholesterol levels in the blood and lower the risk of heart disease, atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries), and thrombosis (formation of blood clots in the veins or arteries).

Omega-3 fatty acids

Shrimp is also high in omega-3 fatty acids.⁹ Omega-3 fatty acids help to lower cholesterol levels in the bloodstream, improving cardiovascular health. 

Additional benefits

Shrimp is rich in vitamin B12, vitamin D, potassium, and magnesium, which are relevant for your overall health.

How to prepare/cook shrimp if you are watching your cholesterol

If you are watching your cholesterol, it is essential to cook shrimp in a way that maintains its nutritional value without increasing cholesterol.

In 2020, the effect of boiled, grilled, or fried shrimp on rats with high cholesterol-induced fatty liver disease was studied. The researchers found that grilling and boiling shrimp was the best way to reduce cholesterol levels, preserving the omega-3 fatty acids content and other nutritional aspects.

Frying the shrimp does not preserve its nutritional value. Additionally, frying increases the fat (and cholesterol) load of the food. If you are watching your cholesterol levels, it is best not to consume fried food. 

If you have high cholesterol or are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, it is recommended to limit your shellfish consumption to once or twice a week. 

The lowdown

Although shrimp is relatively high in cholesterol, it can still be a part of a heart-healthy diet. This is because it contains a high amount of ‘good’ cholesterol. 

Scallops are low in cholesterol and therefore do not pose a risk of raising your cholesterol levels. They are also low in saturated fats. If you want to include shellfish in your diet, it is important to cook it in a heart-healthy way, either by grilling or boiling it. 

If you are watching your cholesterol or are at a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease, you must confirm with your doctor how much shellfish you can consume.

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