Cholesterol and Scallops

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The rich, firm meat of scallops is one of life's little culinary pleasures. The good news is they're low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. In fact, most of the fat in scallops is in the form of the good kind of fat that may help lower cholesterol. But you'll need to watch how you prepare scallops in order to keep them as part of your cholesterol-friendly diet.

Cholesterol in Scallops

A 3-ounce portion of scallops contains 35 milligrams of cholesterol, according to the USDA's National Nutrient Database. That's a little more than 10 percent of the recommended daily limit of 300 milligrams for the general population. If you have coronary heart disease or high low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, you should limit your cholesterol intake to 200 milligrams per day, says the American Heart Association. Still, the amount in a 3-ounce serving is only 18 percent of your daily recommended limit, so as long as you don't go overboard on your cholesterol intake the rest of the day or eat a huge portion, you can eat scallops without reservation.

When Scallops May Be Less Healthy

Some popular preparations of scallops may not be OK in a cholesterol-controlled diet. For example, breaded, fried scallops are considerably higher in total fat and saturated fat. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, a 3-ounce portion of fast food breaded and fried scallops contains 11.5 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat and and 64 grams of cholesterol. But if you eat the whole restaurant-sized portion, which the USDA database reports is six pieces, you'll be getting almost 20 grams of fat, nearly 5 grams of saturated fat and 108 milligrams of cholesterol.

The Saturated Fat-Cholesterol Connection

When watching your cholesterol, limiting your saturated fat intake may be just as important as limiting your cholesterol intake. According to the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, excess cholesterol raises levels of harmful LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream. The USDA notes, however, that this effect decreases when you keep your saturated fat intake low. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your saturated fat intake to 7 percent or less of your daily calories. On a 2,000-calorie diet, 3 ounces of steamed scallops would provide just over 1 percent of that limit. The fast food breaded and fried scallops, on the other hand, would provide 31 percent per six-piece serving.

The Benefits of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Increasing your intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially when you consume them in place of saturated fats, can help lower your LDL cholesterol, says the American Heart Association. Fish and shellfish are some of the best sources of these beneficial fatty acids. The omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, DHA and EPA, may be especially helpful in reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. A 3-ounce serving of steamed scallops provides 0.15 gram of combined EPA and DHA, 14 percent of the recommended daily intake for women and 9 percent of the recommended daily intake for men.