As some of you already know, the southeastern part of South Carolina (including Charleston, Beaufort, and Hilton Head) is known as the Low Country. The Low Country is known for its beaches, golf and our favorite local food, shrimp. If you have seen Forrest Gump, you know that shrimp is an incredibly versatile food. Shrimp is not only popular in the Low Country; it has been, since 2001, the most consumed seafood in the United States. But is shrimp as good for you as it tastes?
In a recent article in the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter, Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, Director of the HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University, commented that it can be. “Shrimp is a lean source of high quality protein”. It is relatively low in calories and extremely low in saturated fat.
If you were to substitute shrimp for the equivalent amount of steak or cheese you would cut your calories by almost two thirds and your saturated fat by more than 90%. It is also very low in mercury making it appropriate for pregnant woman and children.
Unfortunately, because of its low total fat content, it is also low in healthy Omega 3 fats.
Historically, the biggest concern about shrimp has been its relatively high content of dietary cholesterol. With almost 110 milligrams per 3 ounce serving, shrimp is twice as high in cholesterol than steak. Fortunately, researchers now know that blood cholesterol is influenced to a much greater degree by saturated fat than the cholesterol in food. So including shrimp regularly, especially if substituted for higher saturated fat foods, would be a good thing. The American Heart Association recommends anyone with high LDL cholesterol and taking cholesterol-lowering medications, should limit their dietary cholesterol to 200 milligrams per day.
Of course, another major influence on the health impact of shrimp is how it is prepared. They can be boiled, steamed, grilled, baked or sautéed. Lichtenstein recommends they are best when added to a stir-fry with lots of veggies, or to a lightly dressed salad rather than to cream sauce based dishes. Although very popular, breading and deep frying turns shrimp into high calorie junk food.
More than 90% of the shrimp consumed in the US is imported. Due to different standards in different countries, there is a concern that some of the shrimp may be less safe for consumers and methods used in harvesting them may create some environmental concerns. The Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter suggests that if you are concerned about buying shrimp that is good for you and the environment, you should follow these recommendations from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Shrimp safe for purchase are:
- Black tiger shrimp (Southeast Asia, especially CaMau, Vietnam, farmed using Selva Shrimp criteria – but not other imported black tiger or tiger shrimp.)
- Freshwater prawns (US farmed)
- Pink shrimp (Oregon, wild-caught)
- Pacific or West Coast white shrimp (US farmed in fully recirculation systems of inland ponds)
- Spot Prawns (Canadian Pacific, wild caught)
- Wild caught Northern or Bay shrimp (from the Atlantic)
- Spot prawns (Canadian Pacific, wild-caught)
- Gulf Shrimp (which may be marketed as Brown, Pink, White, Rock or Ebi Shrimp)
- Shrimp from Thailand (farmed in fully circulating systems.)