Not only are fish and seafood wonderful, low-fat replacements for higher-fat meats, but they’re the best source of omega-3 fatty acids you’ll find.
In order to lower your cholesterol, aim to eat fish and seafood three to four times a week. (People who absolutely can’t stand fish and those who are allergic to shellfish can substitute other lean forms of protein.)
You don’t have to get fancy; tuna — even canned — is perfectly fine. In fact, in one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, people who ate 8 ounces or more of fish per week — mostly from canned tuna — lowered their risk of a having a fatal heart attack by 40 percent over those who didn’t eat fish regularly. But buy your tuna packed in water; when you drain oil-packed tuna, you also drain as much as one-quarter of the omega-3 fatty acids; draining water-packed tuna removes just 3 percent.
And don’t worry about the cholesterol in shellfish. When 18 men with normal cholesterol levels replaced the animal protein in their diet with protein from shellfish (oysters, clams, crabs, and mussels), their LDL (low-density lipoprotein)/HDL (high-density lipoprotein) ratios either dropped or remained the same, and their VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein), triglycerides, and total cholesterol dropped.
Easy Ways to Get Your Fill
Can it. Canned tuna is terrific, but there are also canned salmon and sardines to consider. Sardines provide calcium from the easily digestible bones they include. Mix sardines with low-fat mayonnaise and spread on whole wheat crackers for a great snack or light lunch.
Get fresh. The flesh of fish should spring back when pressed, its surface should glisten, and it shouldn’t smell fishy. Frozen is generally a good bet, since it’s often flash-frozen on docks or on the fishing boats themselves.
Eat the “other” steak. Salmon can be broiled, pan-fried, or grilled just like a steak, only much quicker. If you’re grilling salmon fillets, place them on aluminum foil and cook them skin-side up; the fat under the skin will bathe the fish beneath, which will add flavor and moisture.
Be a poacher. To poach fish, heat a quarter-inch of liquid (broth, wine, or even water flavored with a crab boil like Old Bay seasoning) in a pan, add the fish and gently simmer for 10 minutes or so.
Anchovies, anyone? Order them on pizza (and ask for less cheese). Mashed anchovies form the flavorful base for numerous Mediterranean inspired sauces, such as puttanesca, clam sauce, and even Caesar salad dressing.
Go clamming. Clams are packed with those sterols we talked about earlier, chemicals that prevent your body from absorbing cholesterol. Enjoy them in clam chowder, use canned clams for a quick seafood strew, or mix them with nonfat sour cream for a low-fat veggie dip. And don’t forget about clam sauce over whole wheat linguine.
About shrimp. No need to shy away from this crustacean. Although shrimp are relatively high in cholesterol, they’re very low in saturated fat and are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. So enjoy them in stir-fries, chopped over a salad, or thrown into that seafood chowder you’re making. Just skip the scampi style, which is usually laden with butter.