This blog post is the fourth in a series I wrote for Skipper Otto's Community Supported Fishery on the high nutritional value of local fish and seafood here in BC. The original blog was posted September 13, 2017 and can be found here.
Grilled, garlic, buttered or in tacos, shrimp is a crowd-pleaser and hard to resist. But many of us grew up being told to limit our intake of cholesterol-rich foods like eggs and shrimp for fear that it would raise our cholesterol levels and increase our risk of heart disease. This idea is deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche but is it really true?
In the 1960s, the thesis that dietary cholesterol contributes to blood cholesterol and increased risk for heart disease was a rational conclusion based on the available science at that time. Fifty years later, the evidence no longer supports this hypothesis yet changing the dietary recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol has been a slow and at times contentious process.
Cholesterol is vital to our health and well-being. It’s needed to insulate neurons, make vitamin D, build and maintain cell membranes, produce bile to help break down fats, helps regulate blood sugar and is the precursor to hormones like estrogen and testosterone. And that’s only a few of its jobs!
On any given day, we have between 1,100-1,700 mg of cholesterol in our body. About 25% comes from diet while the remaining 75% is made by our body, specifically the liver. In other words, the body makes sure cellular cholesterol levels are within a pretty narrow range to support our body functions while not resulting in elevated levels. Generally speaking, if someone increases their consumption of cholesterol rich foods, the liver produces less, and vice versa.
In recent years, dietary cholesterol has been proven to have minimal impact on blood cholesterol for most individuals. Recent research consistently shows that dietary cholesterol intake does not correlate well with blood cholesterol(references 1, 2) – in other words, eating foods rich in cholesterol does not necessarily increase blood cholesterol or risk of cardiac disease.
There is, however, a small percentage of the population that doesn’t regulate blood cholesterol well. But in these individuals, blood cholesterol can be high regardless of dietary intake. So if blood cholesterol is a concern, the best way to address it is to talk to your healthcare practitioner(s) about various proven approaches to balance cholesterol levels such as increasing physical activity (3) and fiber intake (4).
But for most of us, cholesterol-rich foods are incredibly nutritious. Shrimp, for example, are also a rich source of selenium, iron, and a potent antioxidant pigment called astaxanthin, with strong anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. One study actually found that astaxanthin was useful in lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol (5) while other studies found it protect against inflammation providing cardiovascular benefits (6).
Bottom Line: Skipper Otto members are lucky to have the bounty of Oceanwise shrimp to choose from and should feel good about including spot prawns and sidestripe, humpback, or pink shrimp in your favourite recipe as part of a heart-healthy diet.
© Melissa Evanson 2017. For permission to reproduce or repost this post, email firstname.lastname@example.org