Be Selfish, Eat Shellfish!

The summer heat makes me avoid my oven like the plague; I do anything to steer clear of over heating. This becomes extremely apparent in my summer lunch and dinner dishes. As fruits and vegetables change with the season, shifting from hearty potatoes, starchy squash, and leafy brussel sprouts to sweet melons, plump tomatoes, crunchy zucchini and deliciously tart berries, my cooking takes on the same evolution. Most obviously lacking heavy stews, lengthy meat cooking times and oven-roasted vegetables, the protein in my meals also shifts and my body happily welcomes shellfish as it steals the spotlight away from braised meats. The texture and weight of shellfish dishes easily lends to its ability to make you feel lighter.

The summer months breed the tastiest varieties of shellfish and since shellfish is the topic of this post, it should come as no surprise to you that when you prepare shellfish with health in mind (no you will not see deep fried oysters as part of this post) it can be extremely nutritious, healthful and the perfect protein source to help you slim down.

Shellfish is most well known for being a great protein source that is often low in fat; categorized into two groups: crustaceans and mollusks, both have plenty of nutrition and sustenance to offer. Crustaceans are jointed with a crust-like exoskeleton and include lobster, shrimp and crabs. Mollusks are soft-bodied but still covered by a shell and include oysters and clams. When it comes to calories, these guys definitely have our four-legged friends beat. On average, 3 oz of lean meat can equate to about 210 calories, that’s more double the calories in 3 oz of shrimp, lobster and oyster which come in at 101, 76 and 87 calories respectively. But you can’t beat the protein in red meat, right? Actually this isn’t the case. You may be surprised to find that 3 oz of lean red meat can give you about 17 grams of protein while 3 oz of lobster will give you about the same (16.5 g of protein) and 3 oz of shrimp can give you even more, about 19.5 gram of protein! Protein is necessary for growth, repair and maintenance of tissues and with RDA (recommended daily allowances) coming in at 56 g for men and 46 g for women, it’s a good idea to swap some of your red meat intake for these high protein, low fat shellfish options.

And that’s just their protein and calorie content! There are plenty of nutrients found in shellfish that are vital for optimal health. Shellfish are great sources of vitamin B12, a water-soluble vitamin that is necessary for health of nerve cells, red blood cells and is good for your metabolism. 6 oz of shrimp contains 2 micrograms of B12 and 6 oz of scallops contains 2.6 micrograms. They are also good sources of zinc and choline. Zinc is a mineral essential for growth and development, energy metabolism and immune function and choline is necessary for cell membrane structure, cell signaling, fat transport of nerve transmission. Lastly, most shellfish, and shrimp in particular, are excellent sources of iron. 6 oz of shrimp contains 4.1 mg of iron, which is nearly ¼ of the RDA for iron in women.

Now, the next most common question about shellfish is about its cholesterol content. For the record, scientists are not 100% aware of the impact that dietary cholesterol has on our blood cholesterol levels, but limiting your dietary cholesterol intake is strongly advised, especially if you have high cholesterol, are overweight or have a family history of heart disease. While “good” cholesterol is necessary for the synthesis of steroid hormones and bile, shellfish do contain higher amounts of “good” and “bad” cholesterol than most other proteins, so, again, if you have a history of heart disease or high cholesterol, it is best to limit your shellfish intake. Here is a helpful chart to see how shellfish stacks up against commonly associated high-cholesterol foods.

Food Cholesterol Content (mg)
Lobster (3 oz) 75 mg
Shrimp (3 oz) 120 mg
Scallops (3 oz) 135 mg
Low-fat Cottage Cheese (1/2 cup) 5 mg
Cheddar Cheese (1 oz) 30 mg

Shrimp may be the most popular non-canned seafood in America but most people are not aware that brown shrimp, especially the large ones, contain a large amount of iodine. Iodine is found in a type of plankton that takes up a lot of real estate in the diet of brown shrimp. So, if you are sensitive to iodine or have hypo/hyper-thyroidism it would be best to consult your doctor or dietician about your shrimp intake.

But enough about the nutrition in shellfish, it’s time to focus on an equally important aspect of shellfish- eating it! Shellfish is extremely easy to prepare and rarely involves lengthy cooking times. Here are some of my favorite shellfish recipes, I hope you enjoy!

1.  Seared Scallops with Lemony Sweet Pea Relish

2. Shrimp Boil

3. Garlic Seafood Pasta

4. Curried Coconut Mussels

5. Picnic Perfect Lobster Rolls

* While a severe allergic reaction of anaphylaxis is rate, unfortunately, minor shellfish allergies are quite common. Some of the symptoms include:

•  Hives, itching or eczema

•  Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body

•  Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing

•  Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting

•  Dizzinesss, lightheadedness or fainting

•  Tingling in the mouth

Be sure to see a doctor or allergy specialist if you have possible food allergy symptoms shortly after eating.

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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