If you love shrimp, you’re not alone. The average American consumes about 4 pounds of shrimp yearly! Shrimp is one of the most consumed type of shellfish.
Health experts and doctors used to warn people to stay away from shrimp and other shellfish because they believed they were too high in cholesterol. Now they know dietary cholesterol, like that in shrimp, has little to no effect on blood cholesterol for most people. Instead, your blood cholesterol is more influenced by the mix of fats and carbs you eat.
Shrimp, and shellfish, can be excellent choices for a low-cholesterol diet, and have many benefits that make them a heart-healthy food.
Nutrients in Shrimp
Shrimp is an excellent source of protein and carries many essential vitamins. 100 grams shrimp carries 20 grams of protein, 0.51 grams of fat (of that, only 0.1 grams is saturated fat), and 0 grams of carbs.
Here's an overview of the nutrients in a 100-gram serving of shrimp:
• Calories: 85
• Protein: 20.1
• Selenium: 100% RDI
• Vitamin B12: 75% RDI
• Iron: 17% RDI
• Phosphorus: 13% RDI
• Niacin: 11% RDI
• Zinc: 9% RDI
• Magnesium: 7% RDI
Don’t forget the iodine, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, or the astaxanthin antioxidants, which have a variety of health benefits. Iodine specifically is an important mineral that many people are deficient in, which plays a major role in thyroid function and brain health.
Is Shrimp High in Cholesterol?
Dietary cholesterol has been demonized for decades, with many people fearing foods that are high in cholesterol from believing that they increase blood cholesterol levels, therefore promoting heart disease.
Shrimp is often one of these feared foods. An 85-gram serving of shrimp contains 166mg of cholesterol, which is much higher than the cholesterol in other seafood like tuna.
However, research shows that only about a quarter of the population is sensitive to dietary cholesterol. For most people, dietary cholesterol may only have a small impact on blood cholesterol levels.
Most of the cholesterol in your blood is produced by the liver, and when you eat foods high in cholesterol, your liver produces less.
Research has shown that it’s the saturated fat in your diet that raises cholesterol levels in your body, not necessarily the amount of cholesterol in your food.
One Study published in the NIH found that people who ate 300 grams of shrimp daily were able to increase their HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) by 12% and decreased their triglycerides by 12%. HDL and triglycerides are important factors in reducing the risk of heart disease.
Another study in 356 women who consumed shellfish including shrimp on a regular basis had much lower triglycerides and blood pressure levels to those who did not include shellfish or shrimp into their diets.
More research is needed to explore the impact of shrimp in heart health, but it has various beneficial properties that may outweigh its cholesterol content. Still, moderation is key.
When shopping for shrimp, it’s important to choose high-quality, fresh shrimp that isn’t damaged, contaminated, or infected. Unless you live by the coast, readily available shrimp at the grocery store likely isn’t fresh, rather frozen, or previously frozen then thawed.
• Shrimp should be firm
• Shells should be translucent and grayish-green, pinkish tan, or light pink in color
• Avoid shrimp with blackened edges or black spots on the shells
• Look for shrimp with an “ocean-like” or salty smell
• Avoid shrimp with a fishy or ammonia-like odor
• Cooked shrimp should be firm, and white with a slight red or pink tint
How to Prepare
The way shrimp is prepared can often turn the dish into a high cholesterol one. Shrimp are often breaded and fried, which makes them high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Buttery sauces and dipping shrimp in butter can turn this healthy seafood into a high cholesterol meal. But there are other ways of preparing shrimp that can still reap the benefits of a high-protein food and taste great:
Shrimp pairs well with fresh dill, garlic, tarragon, parsley, fresh ginger, olive oil, and especially lemon.
Do This to Lower Your Cholesterol Instead
Rather than cutting out shrimp entirely, there are other things that can reduce or prevent high cholesterol instead:
• Focus on fiber-rich foods like oats, berries, and legumes
• Choose nutrient-dense foods like dark leafy greens, fruits, brightly colored vegetables, nuts, and seeds, which can provide antioxidants to lessen the plaque buildup in the arteries
• Replace a few fatty sources of protein with leaner and omega-rich sources like seafood
• Exercise regularly