Shrimp is an incredibly popular crustacean, one that we’re eating more often than any other type of shellfish. The popularity comes from the flavor and texture, as shrimp have a salty and semi-sweet taste that is unique and simply perfect. What about the health effects though? Is shrimp good for you?
Questions like that seem like they should be simple. Like we can easily say that yes shrimp are healthy or no they’re not.
It would be nice if nutrition worked like that. If it did, you could easily focus on healthy foods and cut down on unhealthy ones. In practice, though, most foods are complicated. They have their benefits, along with their concerning features.
Take grapefruit as an example. The fruit offers some interesting nutrients and antioxidants. It’s even used as a weight loss tool. Yet, grapefruit also interacts with a range of medications, making it a no-go in some situations.
Then there’s tuna. Like shrimp, tuna offers omega 3 fatty acids. Tuna can also be high in mercury, so you need to closely watch the amount you consume.
Just like grapefruit and tuna, shrimp has some positive features and some that are less appealing. So, let’s look at how these balance out.
Is Shrimp Good For Your Health?
- Shrimp Versus Prawns
- Benefits Of Shrimp
- The Problems With Shrimp
- Is Shrimp High In Cholesterol?
- Farmed Shrimp Versus Wild Shrimp
- Can Pregnant Women Eat Shrimp?
- Is It Safe To Eat Raw Shrimp?
- Final Thoughts
Shrimp Versus Prawns
Before we talk too much about shrimp, we need to get this question out of the way – what’s the difference between shrimp and prawns? You’ve probably heard the two terms shrimp and prawns used interchangeably. Things get confusing quickly as the words are used in different ways, depending on where you live.
While the two types of shellfish are closely related, they are different species.
Shrimp can be found in many different environments, including fresh and salt water. However, salt water shrimp are much more common. Prawns, on the other hand, are more common in fresh water. They also tend to be larger than shrimp.
Size is the easiest way to tell shrimps from prawns. However, this isn’t a guarantee, as you can get large shrimp and small prawns. You can also look at the shells. For shrimp, the second shell segment overlaps both the first and the third, while for prawns, the overlapping goes down the abdomen.
While shrimp tend to be a little sweeter, there aren’t dramatic flavor differences, giving you the chance to use whichever type you like.
The nutrition profiles appear to be similar as well, with no reported differences between them. As such, the benefits and risks that we’re discussing for shrimp will apply to prawns as well.
Benefits Of Shrimp
A Lean Source Of Protein
Shrimp are low in fat, containing just 1 gram of fat in a 3-ounce serving. Even more impressively, shrimp contain almost no saturated fat, which is great news for your heart.
At the same time, you’re getting around 15 grams of protein in that same 3-ounce serving. This balance of fat and protein makes shrimp an excellent choice when you’re trying to lose weight.
We’re also talking about a complete source of protein, one that gives you all the amino acids that you need. It’s not surprising, then, that shrimp is an easy choice when you’re trying to gain muscle.
Low In Carbs Too
Shrimp contain hardly any carbs, to the point that keto dieters can enjoy them. There are countless keto-friendly versions of regular dishes to try, including Cajun shrimp, creamy Tuscan shrimp, and shrimp zucchini pasta.
The combination of low carbs and high protein makes shrimp ideal for most weight loss diets.
A Source Of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are often associated with plant-based foods, including powerhouses like blueberries. Yet, you can find antioxidants in other foods too, such as shrimp.
The most interesting here is astaxanthin, which comes from algae and is the reason that shrimp has a reddish color. Like other antioxidants, astaxanthin helps to protect against free radical damages and may reduce inflammation throughout your body.
These effects could also lead to a lower risk of some diseases, including heart disease. There may be other benefits too, such as improvements in brain health and decreased risk of cognitive problems like memory loss.
The Nutrient Content
You’re getting some appealing nutrients with shrimp, including iron, selenium, choline, phosphorous, and vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is particularly interesting. It is important in the creation of new cells and in your metabolism.
There is also vitamin D. Food isn’t a great source of this vitamin. Spending time in the sun will allow your body to create much more. Even so, food sources of vitamin D can help and there aren’t many to choose from. Shrimp is one such food, giving you close to 40% of your daily intake in a 100-gram serving.
Of course, vitamins B12 and D aren’t the only important ones. Every single vitamin and mineral in shrimp promotes your health in some way.
Getting all the vitamins and minerals you need is a critical way to support your health – and shrimp is a delicious way to boost your nutrient intake.
The Omega 3 Fatty Acids
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of omega 3s. These healthy fats have been associated with a huge range of benefits, including the chance to lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, improve mental health, decrease inflammation, and lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.
In fact, many of the proposed benefits of shrimp come from the omega 3s.
Why do these fats matter so much? Well, they’re essential. Our bodies use them in many ways, including in our cell membranes. Omega 3s are also highly relevant in the creation of hormones, which then have many direct and indirect impacts throughout our bodies.
We can’t make omega fatty acids ourselves, so we need to get them from our diet.
You can rely on plant-based sources of omega 3s, like flaxseed, but those will only give you alpha linolic acid (ALA). That’s the least powerful form and needs to be converted before our bodies can do much with it.
Shrimp mostly contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) instead. These types of omega 3 are much more powerful and are reason enough to eat shrimp regularly.
There is one catch, however. Remember how earlier on we said that shrimp is low in fat? It is, which means that the omega 3 content isn’t as high as it could be. You get a little over 260 mg of omega 3s in a 3-ounce serving of shrimp versus more than 800 mg for the same serving size of wild salmon.
To get the most benefits from omega 3s, it’s best to make one of your weekly seafood servings a high omega 3 choice, like salmon or tuna.
The Low Mercury Content
If you’re eating seafood, you need to think about mercury. It’s as simple as that. Too much mercury can cause significant and long term harm. And, unfortunately, some types of seafood are high in mercury (like tuna).
Shrimp is excellent as the mercury content is very low. In fact, most types of fish contain more mercury than shrimp.
Could Promote Bone Health
Some of the nutrients found in shrimp are highly relevant to your bone health, including calcium and magnesium. Getting enough of these nutrients should help to keep your bones strong, while reducing the risk of fractures.
Surprisingly, even the protein in shrimp could be relevant to your bone health.
Might Help Your Brain Too
The omega 3s in shrimp could be relevant for improving your cognition and mental health, but that’s not all. There’s a chance that the choline is relevant too, along with the antioxidants.
Besides, if you love the taste of shrimp, you'll probably find that eating them gives you an immediate mood boost.
The Problems With Shrimp
Shrimp Allergies Are Common
Shrimp is an incredibly common food allergy, one of the top eight in the United States. Symptoms run the gambit from subtle and non-dangerous to severe and potentially deadly.
Allergies can be triggered by even minor exposure to shrimp, so anyone allergic will need to avoid shrimp entirely.
The Use Of Antibiotics
Shrimp are vulnerable to disease, so many shrimp farmers use antibiotics to make their business more profitable. This is far from ideal, as the antibiotics could negatively affect our health.
To make matters worse, most of the shrimp in the United States is imported, which makes it difficult to completely control their quality.
The FDA does prohibit shrimp with antibiotics from being imported and sold in the United States, but this isn’t enough to stop it from happening. After all, with so many imports, there will always be some that slip through the net.
To avoid this issue, look for wild caught shrimp or shrimp that was caught in the United States. Both types should be completely free from antibiotics.
How Shrimp Is Served
While shrimp itself is low in fat, the way that we prepare it often isn’t. Many recipes rely on cooking shrimp in butter or even deep frying it. Not surprisingly, these approaches give you a much less healthy dish.
Other recipes rely on breaded shrimp. You can make low fat versions easily enough, but many rely on breadcrumbs, which increase the carb content of your meal.
If you want the most health benefits from shrimp, you’ll need to think about the way you serve it. Thankfully, there are plenty of healthy options, including times where you’re baking the shrimp rather than frying it. Boiling and steaming shrimp are other healthy approaches.
Is Shrimp High In Cholesterol?
The cholesterol content in shrimp is one potential cause for concern. This was even a reason for people concerned about their heart to avoid shrimp altogether.
We all know that high cholesterol foods increase the risk of heart disease, right?
Actually, that mightn’t be the case at all. We now know that cholesterol in our food often doesn’t increase cholesterol in our blood at all – and when it does, the effects aren’t as dramatic as you might expect.
It might even be saturated fat rather than cholesterol that increases levels of cholesterol in our blood. This is a relevant difference, as shrimp is very low in fat and contains barely any saturated fat.
Plus, shrimp can actually increase your levels of HDL cholesterol. This is seen as the good type of cholesterol, the one that might protect your heart. In the end then, shrimp might be a heart healthy food.
That said, shrimp do contain much more cholesterol than most other types of seafood. So, if you are worried about your cholesterol levels, you might choose to skip shrimp and focus on a different type of seafood instead.
Farmed Shrimp Versus Wild Shrimp
As with many types of seafood, shrimp is sometimes caught in the wild and sometimes raised on a farm instead.
Wild shrimp are often seen as healthier, as they eat a more natural diet and often have more space to roam. Farmed shrimp, on the other hand, are fed a controlled diet. Some farms also pack the shrimp in tightly, to the point that they suffer from overcrowding and could be swimming in their own waste.
Shrimp farms can damage their local ecosystem too and have been linked to a host of other problems, including the reliance on slave labor. The lack of clear reliable labeling can make it difficult to find disease free shrimp that hasn’t been farmed by slaves.
While wild caught shrimp avoids most of these issues, there are a few problems with this too, including the way that the shrimp nets catch a large number of other species at the same time. The natural shrimp environment is also delicate, meaning that catches of wild shrimp will always be limited.
These patterns mean that wild caught shrimp and farmed shrimp both have their issues.
Wild caught should still be better, as the shrimp aren’t exposed to as many chemicals. However, fresh wild caught shrimp are difficult to find and are often expensive. You might find that you need to stick with the farmed version, even if the taste and texture isn’t quite as good.
With so many problems, some people prefer to give up on shrimp altogether. Many other types of seaweed offer just as many nutritional benefits and aren’t subject to nearly as many problems. Locally caught fish, for example, is a reliable bet, along with clams and oysters farmed in your local area.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Shrimp?
Seafood is often a problem during pregnancy, as the developing baby is sensitive to mercury. Shrimp breaks the mold, as it is a low mercury choice, one that can be safely enjoyed during pregnancy.
Shrimp is even beneficial during pregnancy, as it offers many nutrients that you need, including calcium, zinc, choline, and iron. The protein is relevant too.
However, it’s still important to be careful. You should still talk to your doctor first and take reasonable precautions, including eating no more than two or three servings of seafood each week. Also make sure that the shrimp is fully cooked.
Is It Safe To Eat Raw Shrimp?
Raw shrimp is surprisingly popular. It’s even considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. Even so, raw shrimp is risky, as the shrimp may be host to viruses, bacteria, and parasites, all of which could make you sick.
This is particularly concerning when you think about all the farming controversies.
Cooking shrimp at a high heat kills these concerning microbes. But, if you eat the shrimp raw, you could easily end up with food poisoning. Honestly, it’s not worth the risk. Cooked shrimp are just as delicious (if not more so) and are much safer.
There are ways to minimize risk, like by washing the shrimp carefully. However, such techniques won’t kill the bacteria, so the potential for food poisoning remains.
Shrimp provides you with plenty of vitamins and minerals, while also acting as a low fat source of protein. We can’t forget the flavor and texture either. After all, many of us eat shrimp because we love it, not for the health benefits.
Even so, shrimp isn’t the wisest choice for everyone. Anyone with a shrimp allergy will need to avoid shrimp altogether. There’s the cholesterol to think about too. While the cholesterol in shrimp won’t change blood cholesterol levels for most people, some will see an effect. People who already have high cholesterol levels or are at risk for heart disease might be best to focus on low cholesterol seafood instead.