Most dietary guidance recommends eating many types of seafood, but you may be wondering where shellfish fits in. In general, it’s a healthy addition to your diet — as long as you’re not allergic to it.
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What Counts as Shellfish?
You can break shellfish down into two groups: crustaceans and mollusks.
Should I Eat Shellfish?
The short answer is yes, shellfish can be a healthy addition to your diet as long as you’re not one of the nearly 7 million Americans who are allergic.
Among people with an allergy, crustaceans tend to cause the worst reactions. You may be able to tolerate mollusks, but you should ask your doctor first.
Mollusks and crustaceans provide a lot of nutrients, including:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats)
- Numerous minerals like zinc, copper, iron, and magnesium
These foods tend to be low in mercury, low in fat, and low in cholesterol. Even shrimp, which was once thought to be high in cholesterol, isn’t out of bounds. It is higher in cholesterol and sodium than other types of shellfish, but it doesn’t have unhealthy amounts.
Oysters have a high mineral content, along with low-fat, cholesterol, and sodium, making them one of the best options.
All these great nutrients add up to big benefits for your body, including lower risk of heart disease, a boost in brain development, and higher levels of good cholesterol.
What Should I be Careful Of When Eating Shellfish?
Not all types of shellfish are equal, and some have a higher likelihood of contaminants. Many species can retain bacteria or other contaminants in the water because of how they filter the water where they live. This can lead to foodborne illnesses.
Always be sure to fully cook any seafood and choose domestic seafood over imported to help lower these risks.
Most types of shellfish have a low mercury content. Lobster is the highest with moderate mercury levels.
The Seafood Watch project of the Monterey Bay Aquarium offers guidance on the best varieties of seafood to buy based on their economic impact and health benefits.
The project ranks clams, mussels, and oysters as the best buying choices, along with farmed scallops and farmed or wild shrimp from the United States.
Watch out for imported shrimp, lobsters, and certain varieties of clams. When eating locally caught shellfish, pay attention to local water conditions. Any contaminants in the water may be present in your fish. As long as the water is relatively clean, your fish is likely safe to eat as well.
As with any foods, eat shellfish in moderation, especially children and pregnant women. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend you eat at least 8 ounces of seafood per week, and shellfish is a tasty way to fill some of that portion.
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