All About Shellfish

IMAGE Are you working to keep your cholesterol level down? Have you stopped eating lobster, crab, and the like because you thought shellfish was loaded with cholesterol? Well, think again. Throw another shrimp on the barbecue and read on because shellfish, which were once blacklisted by the cholesterol police, have been given a reprieve.

Doesn't Shellfish Have a Ton of Cholesterol?

Actually, no. Shellfish's cholesterol level is not as health threatening as once believed.There are a few reasons why shellfish may have a bad reputation when it comes to cholesterol. First, shellfish contain a variety of sterols, a group of chemical compounds that includes cholesterol. Previously, scientists could not distinguish among the different sterols and all were labeled as cholesterol. As a result, the amount of cholesterol in shellfish was overestimated. In reality, shellfish contain less cholesterol than meat or poultry.

Not Much Fat, Though

Another factor that worked against shellfish was the thought that dietary cholesterol raised blood cholesterol levels. Because shellfish does contain cholesterol, it was considered bad for you. Now we know that dietary cholesterol is only a minor contributor to blood cholesterol levels: total calorie intake and the quantity and type of fat, such as trans fat and saturated fat, in the diet are far more important. Fortunately, the fats in shellfish are in the healthy category.

Bad Company

The company that shellfish keep, however, can be a problem. Shellfish are often served with melted butter or a mayonnaise-based tartar sauce. And shellfish are frequently battered and deep fried. Both actions can turn a low-fat dish into a high-fat bomb by increasing the total fat and the saturated fat. Instead, try steaming shellfish and serving with lemon and spices.

What Makes a Fish a Shellfish?

It is as simple as it sounds—shellfish are sea creatures that have a shell of some kind. There are two basic categories:Crustaceans—They have elongated bodies with a jointed, soft shell. These include crabs, crayfish, lobster, and shrimp. Mollusks—These have soft bodies covered by a shell of one or more pieces. Mollusks are divided into three categories:
  • Univalves—a single shell and a single muscle; includes abalone and snail
  • Bivalves—two shells hinged together by a strong muscle; includes clam, scallop, mussel, and oyster
  • Cephalopods—tentacles attached to the head and an ink sac; includes octopus and squid

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