Cholesterol in Fish – Why We Need to Eat More Fish!

Cholesterol in Fish

Understanding the pros and cons of the cholesterol in fish can be somewhat confusing. On one hand, it is nearly impossible to ignore the fact that fish (even healthy and beneficial choices like mackerel) contain some cholesterol (and, some fish are worse than others). However, many types of fish are considered good cholesterol foods. Well, how can that be when some options (like the aforementioned mackerel which contains 78 milligrams per fillet) can contain up to one quarter of the daily recommended amount of cholesterol for people who are not struggling to control their LDL levels? Well, it has to do with dietary intake, the beneficial compounds in fish and, understanding all the different types of blood lipids, rather than just the amount of cholesterol in fish alone.

Starting with the simplest explanation first, even cholesterol laden fish are often considered excellent Omega-3 fatty acid foods. WebMD explains why this is beneficial, noting that foods like fish that are full of Omega-3s, can contribute to lower levels of triglyceride levels. In fact, some studies have shown that daily fish oil intake could make the levels of triglycerides in the blood plummet by as much as thirty percent. This astonishing feat earned Omega-3 fatty acids the right to claim heart health benefits, a claim further evidenced by other studies that showed the effects of fatty acids on arterial plaques, in which their progression was slowed. But, the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acid foods like most fishes do not stop there in terms of muddling the impact of cholesterol in fish.

Aside from just a healthy heaping dose of Omega-3 fatty acids, fish provides another benefit to cholesterol numbers and heart health as well. The University of Maryland Medical Center points out that fish filled diets like the Mediterranean diet, benefit from higher HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) than others. Why is this important? Because when you increase HDL cholesterol, you may be able to positively affect LDL (bad) cholesterol levels too. HDL cholesterol serves sort of like the policemen of the lipid world, canvassing the blood pathways of the body and seeking out clumpy LDL cholesterol that has affixed itself to plaques in the arteries. When HDL finds the offending lipids, they are removed and sent away for prompt disposal. Thus a healthy boost in HDL numbers can indirectly impact LDL levels over time. While this fact does not necessarily negate the amount of cholesterol in fish, it does show another way in which ocean dwelling edibles may be good for the heart.

But, perhaps even more relevant than the cholesterol in seafood in general is the amount of saturated fat that is NOT found in fishy fare. This is where the true battle of the proteins really lays, as The Harvard School of Public Health notes that fat intake and type of fat ingested may play a bigger role in cholesterol levels than that which is consumed on its own. From this perspective, looking at the lack of bad fats (like saturated fat) found in seafood rather than the amount of cholesterol in fish is worthwhile, because it is possible that fat may be even more related to higher cholesterol over time than how much is actually included in the diet. A parallel can be drawn from these figures when fish is compared to other types of protein, like chicken. To most people, lean protein choices like white breast meat chicken may be a superior option for those with high cholesterol. But, the amount of saturated fat in breast meat, along with the existing cholesterol in chicken, actually makes it a poor choice for those with elevated lipid levels to eat more than occasionally.

And, although perhaps a matter of preference over fact, it is worth noting that fish can be prepared in many healthful ways that other proteins cannot. Of course, seafood lovers everywhere enjoy deep fried fish, however fillets can also be baked, broiled, poached and even steamed – a claim that beef, chicken and pork simply cannot make. These preferable cooking methods allow for healthful low cholesterol recipes that avoid the use of oils, butter and other fats without sacrificing flavor and texture. Fish is incredibly versatile in this regard, meaning that the choices among low cholesterol recipes are not only nearly endless, but the dishes that can be created contain less fat, fewer calories and less cholesterol than many other types of meals, making them an abundantly healthy pick for a cholesterol diet.

The relationship between fish oil and cholesterol has been studied for many years, and a lot of evidence points to seafood’s ability to keep our hearts healthy. While the cholesterol in fish may make it seem an unlikely suspect for coronary care fare, understanding the immense amount of value that nutrient rich fishes can provide will help put together the pieces of the cholesterol conundrum. There are many things that come from fish that our bodies need to stay healthy, and having high cholesterol is no excuse to ditch the fish.