Shrimp – Little Guys with Jumbo Benefits

June 10, 2014 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Diabetic Menu Item, Health, Mediterranean, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

We nutritionists and dietitians are often encouraging the consumption of fish; the reason is that it’s generally a very low fat, low calorie source of protein, with an added bonus of omega-3 fatty acids. But because shrimp is so low in total fat, it isn’t a great source for omega-3 fatty acids. But before you abandon the little guys from menu planning you may want to consider other benefits of shrimp.

I’m definitely one who enjoys shrimp, and have lots of company.  Americans are consuming about 4.2 pounds of shrimp per capita.  I believe that the pleasure of eating shrimp is partially the texture – it’s a firm texture, unlike many other types of fish. This may be one of the reasons why so many people that don’t like fish, do like shrimp. Shrimp passed canned tuna on the National Fisheries Institute’s list of most- consumed seafood clear back in 2001. Note: Canned tuna is also a great low-cost fish to remember in menu – planning.

So what are some of the benefits of shrimp?

  • Shrimp is relatively low in calories and is a lean source of high-quality protein and a source of vitamins and minerals.
  • Shrimp has almost no mercury contamination (great fish for pregnant women and children.
  • Shrimp is extremely low in saturated fat, it has less than a tenth of a gram in three ounces and, of course, it has no trans fats.
  • Shrimp has 107 milligrams of cholesterol in three ounces (about half as much as a large egg). Now that we finally know that it is saturated fat from food, not cholesterol in foods, that is the primary driver of unhealthy cholesterol in the blood, we also know that eating eggs and shrimp is a healthy behavior. Generally speaking, you’ll want to limit your cholesterol intake to 200 milligrams if you’re taking a blood cholesterol-lowering medication.

Because I had a professor, the late Roslyn B. Alfin-Slater, PhD, who was way ahead of the curve in understanding cholesterol metabolism, I have long included shrimp in the protein foods list. One time, many years ago, I learned that my patient was going to Sizzler and having “All-you-can-eat shrimp (breaded and fat-fried).” Yikes!  Of course, in recommending shrimp I was picturing a lightly sautéed in extra virgin olive oil; not breaded and deep-fried in saturated fat.  Olive oil can’t be used for deep-frying because of its low smoke point. Even if you use canola oil, it’s not a good idea to eat deep-fried shrimp. Too much total fat! I’m not encouraging “popcorn shrimp” either. If you’re not familiar with “popcorn shrimp,” it’s shrimp bits (sometimes whole small shrimp with the tail removed).  They look like the size of a small or medium shrimp because the breading is super thick. Don’t be fooled by ready-made popcorn shrimp products that talk about being oven-baked. Yes, oven-baked, because the deep-frying has already been done by the food processor. If you want to reap the benefits of including shrimp in your diet, stay away from breaded and deep-fried and take fresh or frozen shrimp and make a meal by combining these delicious shrimp with lots of vegetables. There are many recipes for shrimps in stir-fries, in soup, in salads, and just sautéed or grilled; I find an overabundance of choices in a quick search online. One other nice thing about shrimp is that they cook quickly not heating up the house in the summer, even if you’re not grilling them.

If you want to ensure that the shrimp you eat is as good for the environment as it is for you, you may want to consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. It will help you avoid buying shrimp from endangered or overfished regions, so that your supply of shrimp will be sustainable into the future for you and your children; and most importantly the standards involved in raising the shrimp are scrutinized to provide the healthiest alternatives.

So consider substituting some delightful low-fat, low-calorie shrimp for some of your summer meals. Skewered shrimp are easy, tasty and fast; and maybe can save you from calling for pizza or running out to the burger shop.