Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Shellfish for the heart?

Fish is good for the heart, especially fatty fish like salmon and sardines. What about shellfish? Shrimp, lobster, clams, scallops, crayfish, and the like deliver smaller amounts of heart-healthy omega-3 fats than finfish. They also tend to be higher in cholesterol. A study from the Medical University of South Carolina suggests that shellfish certainly aren't bad for the heart. But they may not offer the same protection against cardiac arrest and coronary artery disease as finfish.

The researchers came to this conclusion by looking at the onset of heart disease in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study. People who ate shellfish at least once a week were just as likely to have had a heart attack, needed a procedure to open or bypass blocked arteries, or died of a heart condition as those who ate shellfish only a few times a month and those who never ate shellfish (Journal of the American Dietetic Association, August 2009).

The researchers couldn't determine how the participants usually prepared shellfish. That could have covered up possible benefits — deep-fried shrimp, which can be full of unhealthy trans fats, has a different effect on the arteries than boiled shrimp.

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