“Shellfish and marine animals such as lobster, crab, shrimp, clams, oysters, scallops, and abalone have little or no effect on the plasma cholesterol concentration because they are low in fat.” American College of Physicians, 1988.

Saturated fat – not dietary cholesterol – is the main culprit in raising blood cholesterol. Saturated fat is what turns the body on to making cholesterol. High levels of cholesterol in the blood can lead to blocked arteries, heart attacks, and strokes. Shellfish received an unfair reputation for high cholesterol because of outdated scientific methods that detected cholesterol-like substances as well as cholesterol. The resulting readings were falsely high. A serving of most any shellfish is well within the 300-mg daily intake level recommended by major health organizations, including the American Heart Association and National Academy of Sciences. Although crustaceans such as shrimp, lobster, and squid, are higher in dietary cholesterol than mollusks such as clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops, they are extremely low in saturated fat, and doctors see no reason to avoid them. Prominent heart experts no longer place limitations on specific shellfish for their patients with high blood cholesterol levels as long as portion sizes are not excessive and patients watch their saturated fat intake. Content of 3.5 oz (100 g) portions of raw shellfish Calories Saturated Fat Cholesterol Mollusks Clams 74 .09 34 Octopus 82 .23 48 Oysters (Eastern) 69 .63 55 Scallops 88 .08 33 Squid 92 .36 233 Crustaceans Dungeness Crab 86 .13 59 Lobster (Spiny) 112 .24 70 Shrimp 106 .33 152 Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Information Service Handbook 8-15 Pregnant Women and Young Children For the best growth and development of children, pregnant and nursing women need adequate amounts of Omega-3’s. Preliminary studies suggest that Omega-3’s may be important for optimal visual development early in life. Doctors recommend that the general population, including pregnant and nursing mothers, eat seafood two or three times a week. Pregnant women need more protein, and seafood is an excellent low-fat protein source. Women may boost their calcium intake by eating sardines and mackerel canned with bone in. Clams, mussels, and oysters are higher in iron than red meat. Oysters, crab, and lobster are good sources of zinc, another mineral required in greater amounts during pregnancy and lactation. “If a pregnant or breastfeeding woman consumes commercially harvested seafood, I see no cause for concern, particularly if she eats a variety.” Robert Price, PhD., seafood safety expert, University of California at Davis. Other experts concur with Dr. Price, finding seafood to be a great source of nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women. FDA officials have testified that pound-for-pound, fish is by far the safest source of muscle protein available. 

High-fat diets have been linked to 5 of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States,including heart disease and cancer of the colon, breast, and prostate. In California, 36,000 premature deaths and $5 billion in health care costs in 1986 were attributed to the typical high-fat, low-fiber American diet, noted State Health Director Molly Cove, MD, MPH, announcing a statewide 1993 program to reduce dietary fat, California Project L.E.A.N. (low-fat eating for America now). A 3-ounce serving of seafood provides approximately half of the recommended daily intake of protein, yet contains the lowest level of saturated fat in any muscle meat available. Recent research indicates that eating a low-fat dinner, such as seafood, sharply reduces the risk of a heart attack the following morning. Studies suggest that high-fat meals put the blood into a hypercoagulation state within six or seven hours, raising the risk of dangerous, artery-clogging blood clots, the cause of many heart attacks. Fatty meals activate a blood-clotting substance called factor VII. The higher the level of factors VII, the greater the probability of clotting. Most heart attacks occur in the early morning, and doctors theorize that a possible cause could be hyper-coagulation of the blood. Another study revealed that individuals who switched from a high-fat to a low-fat diet reduced their factor VII activity significantly. This research reconfirms a finding that low-fat diets reduce cholesterol deposits over the long term and reduce the risk of blood clots – and heart attacks – almost immediately. A comprehensive study among more than 88,000 women concluded that a high intake of animal fat increases the risk of colon cancer. The study recommended substituting fish and chicken for diets high in fat. 

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, it makes sense to take a few common-sense precautions. Following are suggestions that appeared in the National Academy of Sciences 1991 report, Seafood Safety. Avoid eating raw and undercooked fish and shellfish. Keep fish and shellfish refrigerated or frozen until ready to use. 

Eating Fish Reduces Women’s Stroke Risk   Women should head to the fish market if they want to reduce their chances of having the most common type of stroke, a major new study suggests. 

Eating fish, even in modest amounts, can significantly reduce a woman’s risk of stroke, the study by Boston researchers suggests. The study of nearly 80,000 women found that eating fish was linked to reductions in the risk of ischemic, or clot-related, strokes. Clot-related strokes account for 83 percent of all strokes. Women who ate about 4 ounces of fish two to four times weekly cut their risk of ischemic stroke by 48 percent. Slightly higher risk reductions were found in women who ate fish five or more times weekly, but there were relatively few women in that group. Slight risk reductions were also found even in those who ate fish once a week or less. Stock Up on Salmon and Sardines Researchers have found that Omega-3 fatty acids, found in most fish, can lower levels of blood fats linked to cardiovascular disease and help keep blood from clotting. Dark oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines are especially rich in these fatty acids. The study backs up an earlier finding. Mounting evidence about the cardiovascular benefits of fish led the American Heart Association to include two servings of fish a week in its updated dietary recommendations last fall. But while previous research largely has focused on fish and heart disease, the new study is one of the few to examine the effect on stroke risk and to differentiate between types of strokes, said study author Dr. Kathryn M. Rexrode of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The findings appear in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association. Fish Not Linked to Hemorrhagic Strokes Some researchers have suggested that eating large amounts of fish might increase the risk of hemorrhagic strokes, which occur when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds. But the new study found that a regular diet of fish neither increased nor decreased the risk of this type of stroke, which accounts for about one-fifth of all strokes. The researchers examined about 14 years of data on 79,839 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study. The women were ages 34 to 59 in 1980. There were 574 strokes in the ensuing 14 years. The researchers took into account the women’s age and whether they smoked, factors that could affect stroke risk. But other factors, such as high blood pressure, were not included. The findings thus “don’t exclude the fact that maybe there’s a hidden association” that might explain the results, said Dr. Lawrence M. Brass, a Yale University neurology professor and spokesman for the National Stroke Association. Pregnant Women Should Avoid Certain Fish A study released last week by the Food and Drug Administration said pregnant women and those who might become pregnant should not eat four types of fish — shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish — because they could contain enough mercury to hurt a fetus’ developing brain. Fish is widely considered part of a healthy diet. But some types of fish can harbor high amounts of mercury, an element found naturally in the environment and also a pollutant. 

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