Tips For Lowering Cholesterol: The Effects Of Seafood

Making seafood a regular part of your diet is an easy and delicious way to regulate cholesterol levels.

Everybody says they want to live forever, a feat that, at least for right now, a medical impossibility. It gets confusing, though, because it seems that there is a new medical study every other day, usually contradicting a previous study. New diets are introduced, directly contradicting earlier diets. Back in the 1980s, we all thought the way to get a slim, healthy body was to eat lots of carbs and very little meat along with vigorous exercise. Now the Atkins' and South Beach Diets tell us to eat plenty of protein, go easy on the carbs, and exercise. The one constant is exercise. Everything else is in flux, but it seems to be a fairly firm conclusion that fat is not a constant evil. Some fats, especially those found in seafood, are necessary and beneficial, even to the point of lowering one's cholesterol level.

Cholesterol is a source of confusion because it became a much more complicated issue than originally thought, and it did so very quickly. Cholesterol is actually produced by the body, mostly in the liver, and is a blood fat necessary for proper cell membrane creation. We also ingest cholesterol from foods: meats, seafood, dairy, and eggs. This is where the trouble can begin.

Cholesterol is made up of several different elements, some of which are more helpful and some of which are more harmful. We often hear about "good" or "bad" fats, but what does this really mean? Unfortunately, not much because these labels are inherently misleading. As with all things in life, balance is the key and too much of any one component can be harmful. Cholesterol, as a whole, breaks down into three major categories: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad"), High-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good"), and triglycerides.

Think of LDLs as the transportation system for cholesterols which need to move throughout the blood system to do their work. The problem is that when the LDL level is too high, it can build up on arterial walls, restricting the flow of blood, which can, in turn, can lead to heart disease, stroke, or heart attack. The HDLs are the clean-up crew. They prevent the LDLs from reaching the point where they start becoming harmful to the body. Right now, no one is really too sure what triglycerides do, but general wisdom is leaning towards negative effects on the body. It is thought to be a factor in developing arteriosclerosis, but we are not quite sure how.

When the body creates cholesterol, how much and of what kind is almost completely determined by genetic predisposition or disease, so there is little that can be done to control it. There are, however, plenty of controllable factors. Those who are overweight tend to have a higher overall cholesterol level. Regular exercise reduces levels, and moderate consumption of alcohol seems to raise the HDL levels, but also the triglycerides, so alcohol as a means of controlling HDL levels is a Faustian bargain at best. Smoking makes it easier for arterial buildups. Diet plays a major role in cholesterol levels and the regulation between HDL and LDL levels.

Seafood is a fantastic way to raise the HDL levels and lower both LDLs and triglycerides. In addition, it is wonderfully healthy in many other ways and, when cooked correctly, tastes great. Jacques Cousteau, the famous underwater explorer, showed that the chemical makeup of the oceans is remarkably similar to the chemical composition of human blood, and concluded from this fact that seafood should be an important part of our diet. Fortunately, with modern technology, it is getting easier and easier to get quality seafood no matter where you live.



Ice machines were one of the first breakthroughs in keeping fish fresh. As anyone who has seen The Perfect Storm knows, that fishing boats are out for weeks at a time, and the fish is iced down as soon as it is caught. This is important because seafood has a weak cellular structure which degrades quickly, leading to spoilage. Modern air travel means that seafood harvested near Japan can be served in New York the same day. One of the latest breakthroughs is cryofreezing. The fish, once caught, is quickly scaled, cleaned, and cut into portions. These are cryofrozen to zero degrees Fahrenheit in seconds and then vacuum packed. This makes the seafood easier to store and ship which results in lower cost, almost as good as fresh seafood for the consumers.

Not to be overlooked, seafood is a wonderful source of protein. As followers of either the Atkins' or the South Beach diets, two of the biggest diet fads right now, protein is suggested as the major source of nutrition. There are worries about the Atkins' diet and the long-term effects on the heart since adequate testing has not been done yet. This is not a worry when that protein comes from seafood.

So what exactly should we be eating and what will it do for us? Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel are perfect to raise the levels of HDLs. They have omega-3 fatty acids, which can also be purchased in tablet form, that have been clinically proven to do all kinds of good things. In a study in San Francisco, it was found that men who ate one pound of salmon a day for 20 days boosted their HDL levels by an average of ten percent. Herring, sardines, and tuna also contain these beneficial omega-3s and have been shown to depress triglyceride levels as well. Eating about seven ounces a day may cut triglycerides by as much as fifty percent.

This is in direct contrast to what studies have shown on the effects of meat fats and poultry skin which depress the HDLs while raising the LDLs and triglycerides. This is good to know, because all this trying to get the cholesterol levels down may be harmful. Once again, we see the need for balance. No one really knows why yet, but very low levels of cholesterol have been linked to colon cancer and brain hemorrhages. Low cholesterol is also linked with depression. Naturally, this raises the question of when low levels become unsafe. Right now, nobody is sure, but some have ventured to guess that levels lower than 150-160 in total cholesterol should raise warning signs.

It is often thought that shellfish are also a danger to cholesterol levels, but, thankfully, these thoughts are wrong as studies at the University of Washington have shown. Of the most common shellfish eaten in the United States (squid, oysters, crabs, clams, shrimp, and mussels), none raised cholesterol levels. Squid and shrimp simply have no effect on cholesterol levels, while crabs and clams lower the overall levels, targeting specifically on LDLs. Mussels and oysters have the same effect, with the added bonus of raising HDLs.

As we can see from a myriad of scientific and medical studies, seafood is not just good for you; it is also good at managing cholesterol levels. It has been shown that diet therapy is more beneficial than any other method for those with high cholesterol levels, so menus focusing on seafood should be seriously considered. This is especially true now that modern freezing and shipping techniques make quality seafood available throughout the year and across the world.

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