Shrimp and Scallops as Part of a Low-Cholesterol Diet

Doctors and health experts used to warn people to stay away from shrimp, scallops, and other shellfish because they were believed to be too high in cholesterol.

But now they know dietary cholesterol, like that in shellfish, has little or no effect on blood cholesterol for most people.

Your blood cholesterol is more influenced by the mix of fats and carbohydrates you eat.

Shellfish, in fact, are excellent choices for a low-cholesterol diet. They have benefits that make them heart-healthy foods.

This article looks at the health benefits of shellfish, how to use it as part of a low-cholesterol diet, and what to look for when buying it.

shrimp and scallop
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Shellfish Benefits

Shellfish (and seafood in general) is lower in calories than meat.

It also contains high amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Those are commonly referred to as good fats. These fats improve blood cholesterol and lower your heart disease risk.

That's in contrast to saturated fat from your diet—it prompts your body to produce bad cholesterol, which increases heart disease risk.

The American Heart Association recommends eating seafood (especially fatty fish) at least twice a week.

Shellfish are excellent sources of heart-healthy nutrients and do not appear to contribute to heart disease or high cholesterol. Shrimp and scallops are high in:

They're also low in mercury, so they can be enjoyed on a regular basis, per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Shellfish come in two types: crustaceans and mollusks.

Crustaceans
  • Shrimp

  • Crab

  • Lobster

Mollusks
  • Clams

  • Oysters

  • Mussels

  • Scallops

  • Octopus

  • Squid

  • Snails

Recap

Shellfish contain large amounts of dietary cholesterol, which has a small impact on blood cholesterol. Shellfish are good choices for a low-cholesterol diet, having fewer calories than meat plus healthy fat and several beneficial nutrients.

Keeping Shellfish Dishes Low in Cholesterol

The way shellfish are often prepared can turn the dish into a high cholesterol one. For example, breaded and fried shrimp or clams are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. 

Depending on how much you eat, you could get more than 100 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol from your main dish alone.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend dietary cholesterol amounts between 100 mg and 300 mg per day.

Dietary Cholesterol Content
Shellfish Per 100 grams
Shrimp 220 mg
Crab 102 mg
Lobster 92 mg
Clams 67 mg
Oysters 100 mg
Mussels 57 mg
Scallops 41 mg
Octopus 98 mg
Squid 237 mg
Snail 51 mg

Dipping shellfish in butter can make for a high cholesterol meal, as can buttery sauces. Butter contains unhealthy fat. Try lemon juice, cocktail sauce, or seasonings to add flavor to your shrimp and scallop meals instead of fatty sauces and butter.

Scallops and shrimp pair well with:

  • Fresh dill
  • Garlic
  • Tarragon
  • Parsley
  • Freshly grated ginger
  • Olive oil

Heart-smart preparations include stir-frying, grilling, pan-frying, searing, sautéing, or baking.

Recap

When eating shellfish, keep your cholesterol low by avoiding breading, frying, butter, or fatty sauces.

Buying Shrimp and Scallops

When shopping for shrimp, look for:

  • Flesh that's transparent, not cloudy
  • A sweet scent of fresh seawater
  • Fresh-caught or frozen, wild-caught

If a package of shrimp smells fishy or like ammonia or bleach, do not use it.

Scallops in grocery stores are usually wet-packed. That means they're shucked on the boat and put in cold water to preserve them longer. They should be:

  • White
  • Firm
  • Slightly moist
  • Not shredded or mangled

Packaging should be firmly closed and not allow for any odor to escape. Much like shrimp, they should not smell fishy nor have an ammonia or bleach-like odor.

In general, look for shellfish that are clean, covered in ice, and smell like the ocean. If they have shells, like clams or oysters, the shells should be closed.

Summary

Despite containing high levels of dietary cholesterol, shellfish can be a good part of a low-cholesterol diet. Fat and carbohydrate content have a bigger impact on blood cholesterol.

Common cooking techniques and recipes for shellfish involve breading, frying, butter, and heavy sauces. These can all contribute to high blood cholesterol so look for other ways to prepare shellfish.

Don't buy shellfish that look dirty or smell bad. Shrimp should have transparent flesh and scallops should be white and firm.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020.

  2. Harvard University, T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Cholesterol. Updated March 2, 2020.

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Scientific report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: advisory report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Part D. Chapter 9: dietary fats and seafood. Updated July 7, 2020.

  4. Venugopal V, Gopakumar K. Shellfish: nutritive value, health benefits, and consumer safety. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2017;16(6):1219-1242. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12312

  5. Food & Drug Administration. Advice about eating fish: for women who are or might become pregnant, breastfeeding mothers, and young children. Updated December 29, 2020.