The Myth of Cholesterol – Seafood?

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

Myth 1: I have high blood cholesterol. I should avoid seafood because it’s high in cholesterol.

Many think that cholesterol in seafood will increase the cholesterol in blood. Indeed, cholesterol found in seafood or other meats has little effect on blood cholesterol in MOST people. Saturated fats and trans fattty acids are the most important factors that raise blood cholesterol, not dietary cholesterol! Saturated fats are found in some pre-packaged food or other processed foods containing shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Trans fatty acids, on the other hand, are also found in packaged snack foods, deep-fried foods or firm margarine containing hydrogenated oil.

Myth 2: All cholesterol in my body is bad!

Our body does need cholesterol to make bile salts, hormones and vitamin D. It is mainly produced by our liver. Cholesterol will build up on the artery walls when the level of cholesterol in the blood is too high. There are 2 main types of blood cholesterol: LDL (the “Bad” cholesterol) and HDL (the “Good” cholesterol).

High amounts of the bad LDL will deposit cholesterol on the artery walls forming plaques. More and more plaques will narrow the arteries lumen and may eventually block blood flow. Therefore LDL is considered the “Bad” cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts and fish for instance, can lower the LDL level. In addition, soluble fiber found in fruits, oats, barley, and legumes can also lower LDL.

The good HDL, on the other hand, takes excess cholesterol away and carries it back to the liver to be excreted. It can also remove some of the cholesterol already attached to the artery walls. Therefore HDL is considered the “Good” cholesterol as high levels of HDL in the blood can decrease the risk of heart disease. Physical activity can also raise HDL level.

Study affirmed that a combination of cholesterol-lowering foods works!

( Researchers from the University of Toronto studied the effectiveness of a cholesterol-lowering diet. About 60 people were instructed to eat a healthy plant-based diet high in cholesterol-lowering foods such as soy protein, fiber, almonds and spreads with plant sterols. The results showed that the participants who followed the diet for one year had lowered their cholesterol levels by 20 percent. The results were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in March 2006.

Editor’s Note: Combination of Cholesterol-lowering foods –> comparable to Statins

Numerous studies showed the beneficial effects of individual diets high in soy, fiber (especially soluble fiber found in oats, barley and psyllium), nuts, plant sterols, and fruits & vegetables. This University of Toronto study seems to be the first to investigate the benefits a diet high in a combination of these cholesterol-lowering foods. It is most exciting to note a diet that can lower cholesterol by 20 percent is comparable with the reduction achieved by 29 subjects who took a statin (a cholesterol-lowering drug) for one month in a separate study.

To have a complete picture of your blood cholesterol levels, your doctor likely will order a complete blood cholesterol profile test:

  • Total Cholesterol
  • LDL Cholesterol (bad cholesterol)
  • HDL Cholesterol (good cholesterol)
  • Blood Triglycerides

If you are 20 or older, you should check your cholesterol level at least once every 5 years as a regular check-up. It’s desirable to have your cholesterol numbers within the desirable range. Levels in between are considered borderline high.

Cholesterol Numbers / levels – Desirable

Total Cholesterol – < 200 mg/dL (5.2 mmol/L)
LDL Cholesterol – < 100 mg/dL (2.6 mmol/L)
HDL Cholesterol – > 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L)
Triglycerides – < 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L)

Cholesterol Numbers / levels – High

Total Cholesterol – > 240 mg/dL (6.2 mmol/L)
LDL Cholesterol – > 160 mg/dL (4.1 mmol/L)
HDL Cholesterol – < 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L)
Triglycerides – > 200 mg/dL (2.3 mmol/L)

Source: National Cholesterol Education Program NCEP

Message: To treat high blood cholesterol, the National Cholesterol Education Program NCEP now recommends the TLC diet. In any case, your doctor may prescribe medications immediately if the LDL cholesterol level is over 160 mg/dL or 4.1 mmol/L.

The Bottom Line

There are many factors affecting your blood cholesterol level, including your family history, age, gender, eating habits, body weight and shape, level of physical activity as well as concurrent diabetes conditions. Consult with your Registered Dietitian for a more detailed eating plan.


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