Healthy Living Help: Can You Eat Shrimp Cocktail Without Gaining Weight?

Seafood is often served at holiday parties and family Christmas dinners. You may look forward to an oyster bar on New Year’s Eve, or lobster dinner on New Year’s Day. For others, it may be a shrimp cocktail cup served as an appetizer before the big turkey dinner.

But is it healthy to eat shrimp? You may have heard that shrimp isn’t a nutritious choice because it’s high in cholesterol. You may have also heard that shrimp and other types of seafood are very fattening. What’s the truth? The short version of that answer is that you shouldn’t have to stop eating shrimp unless your doctor or nutritionist recommends it for you personally. Keep reading to find out more!

Is Shrimp High in Cholesterol?

Um, yes. And no. Well, not really. It’s kind of complicated.

Shrimp does contain a high amount of cholesterol. Because of this, doctors used to tell their patients to go easy on the shrimp – especially if they were at risk for cardiac disease. But research done in 1996 shows that it’s not as cut and dried as we used to think.

On the face of it, 100 grams of shrimp supplies 63% of our daily cholesterol. That sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it. I mean, that’s just 10 medium shrimp. How long does it take to eat that – a few seconds, maybe a minute? And in that tiny slice of time, you could have consumed more than half the amount of cholesterol you’re allowed for a whole day! No wonder doctors were warning people off this stuff!

The Other Side of the Cholesterol Story

But the bigger picture is that shrimp has an interest effect on our cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Yes, it does raise the LDL (bad) cholesterol. But it also raises the HDL (good) cholesterol too. And it lowers triglycerides, another type of lipid that in high levels can lead to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) – a condition associated with heart disease and stroke.

So as long as your doctor hasn’t told you not to eat shrimp, eating it in moderation shouldn’t be a problem for your heart health. Just remember that 100 g of shrimp also represents 48% of your daily protein intake too. So if you’re going to eat shrimp with your Christmas dinner, you might want to eat a little less turkey

Is Shrimp Fattening?

Will you gain weight from eating a moderate amount of shrimp? Probably not. Shrimp is a source of lean protein. It’s also low in calories, which is the main issue when we’re worried about weight gain. According to dietitian Cynthia Sass, one jumbo shrimp contains about 14 calories. So two jumbo shrimp supply about the same number of calories as one large carrot.

What you need to watch out for is the portion size, which I’ll get to in the next section. Additionally, you have to watch for added calories, fats, and carbs that come from the way your shrimp is prepared and any sauces it’s served with. So the shrimp by itself is a healthy source of lean protein. But if you bread it and cook it in a deep fryer, there are going to be added calories, carbs and fats. Even a steamed or grilled shrimp is going to be less healthy if you douse it in garlic butter. And it goes without saying that if you eat a pound of shrimp in one sitting, you aren’t doing your waistline any favours.

How Much Fiber in Shrimp?

Sadly, shrimp has zero fibre. Dietary fibre is the indigestible part of plant-based foods. Fibre comes from fruits, vegetables, grains, and other foods we obtain from plants. Meat, fish, shellfish, and other foods we obtain from animals – like milk and eggs – have no fibre content by themselves. You might eat them in a dish that includes foods that are fibre-rich, but your shrimp have no fibre to contribute.

What is a Serving Size of Shrimp?

According to Canada’s Food Guide, the serving for shellfish is 1/2 cup (125 ml) or 75 g (2.5 oz, for my American friends.) That comes out to just under 4 jumbo (21-25) shrimp per serving. Note that this is smaller than the portions you are probably used to. If you decide to increase the portion a bit, that’s OK. Just keep in mind that there will be more calories and cholesterol per person if you do,

To help your guests with portion control, serve individual shrimp cocktail cups or on individual seafood kebabs instead of putting out a shrimp cocktail platter. It’s easy to binge on finger food, and just as easy to go back to the buffet table for “only a few more shrimp” when guests are serving the shrimp onto their own plates. But when you serve the shrimp as a plated seafood course, it’s more likely guests will feel satisfied with their portion and resist the urge to overindulge. Nobody wants to be the greedy one going back for a whole second serving!

What About the Shrimp Cocktail Sauce?

Ah, cocktail sauce! This is where things start to get ugly. Many commercial and homemade cocktail sauces are little more than a little horseradish and a few seasonings, stirred up in a whole lot of ketchup. So basically, dipping your shrimp in cocktail sauce is like adding a bunch of unnecessary salt and sugar to your plate.

Ditch the processed stuff and make a healthy shrimp cocktail sauce, starting with whole tomatoes instead. This crockpot cocktail sauce recipe starts with whole tomatoes, onion, and celery, as well as a small amount of tomato paste, horseradish, salt and sugar. The rest is vinegar and spices. The recipe calls for creamed horseradish, but you can substitute freshly grated horseradish or prepared horseradish.

Helpful Tips for Saving Money on Shrimp Cocktail

First of all, make that shrimp cocktail sauce yourself! And whatever you do, avoid buying the prepared shrimp ring. Both commercial cocktail sauce and the frozen shrimp rings will cost you more money.

Buying whole foods and preparing them at home can sometimes be more expensive than buying something already prepared, but when you’re shopping around you should be careful to compare unit prices. Sure, your initial outlay for cocktail sauce ingredients may be larger than the cost of that frozen shrimp cocktail ring. But you may already have some items (like the horseradish) in your fridge. And usually, a homemade batch of cocktail sauce has a much higher yield than the little jar of commercial stuff.

Another way you can save money is to buy whole shrimp and peel them yourself. If you buy whole, raw shrimp and prep them at home, you’ll get more shrimp than if you were to buy the shrimp already cooked and cleaned. And the bonus is that you get to keep the shells for making frugal seafood broth later! Just bag the shells up, label them, and tuck them away in the freezer. When you have time, pull the bag out and cook up your broth.

Now that you know shrimp is a healthy food choice, you don’t need to feel guilty about eating the shrimp cocktail cup. So enjoy! Add a few extra vegetables to your plate and munch on them with the shrimp. It will make you feel more full, and you’ll be less likely to overeat on the shrimp or other foods at the holiday buffet!


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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Disclaimer: I am not a nutrition expert or health professional. I am just sharing information I have learned so you can further your own exploration of healthy foods. The information is as complete and accurate as possible at the time of publication, but some sources vary in their recommendations and the science of nutrition is always changing. Nothing presented here should replace the advice of a licensed dietitian, certified herbalist, or medical doctor. You and only you are responsible for obtaining professional diagnostics and advice, and only you can make your own healthy eating choices.

30 thoughts on “Healthy Living Help: Can You Eat Shrimp Cocktail Without Gaining Weight?”

  1. I absolutely adore shrimp and especially shrimp cocktail! This makes me feel better about the health aspect – thank you for the cocktail sauce recipe also.

    1. You’ll have to let me know if you try it out, Gina. I think it might take a little adjustment if you’re used to the commercial sauce. But honestly, the fresher stuff us usually so much tastier 🙂

    1. It’s surprising how little it takes to make a portion, isn’t it? The huge amount of cholesterol in shrimp also shocked me. I knew they were supposed to be fattening and I expected cholesterol. Just not that much!

  2. Yummy! I love shrimp. My favourite way to have it is grilled or in an alfredo… I’m not a fan of cocktail sauce. I know alfredo sauce isn’t much better but good info here, I didn’t know the portion size was so small

  3. This article is quite enlightening. I love shrimps but I’ve never even thought of it’s nutritional value aside knowing that it contains protein. And yes, moderation is key when we eat.

    1. I think most of us are only vaguely aware of the nutritional value of the foods we eat. We know that meat and fish have protein, grains and breads are carbs, etc. Nutritional guidelines can be confusing, and they don’t always help us compare the value of two foods in the same group. I find I’ve learned so much since I started to look up the nutritional value of whole foods like shrimp, carrots, and kale 🙂

    1. I’m curious Crisly, do you think that you also had a pretty good sense of how much shrimp was a healthy amount?

      I suspect part of the reason so many of us overeat when it comes to seafood is that it was considered a luxury and was associated mainly with parties and holidays. When a food is scarce at times and very plentiful at others, and we see it being eaten in a sort of binge each time, I think we lose our internal sense of how much to eat and we bgin to rely only on external cues for how much to eat. It makes us eat more than we ought to, instead of stopping when we feel full.

      1. Hi Kyla, shrimp was part of our daily consumption not because of luxury but because in the Island where I grew up, eating meat was only on a special occasions. Fresh catch fish, prawns and all sort of seafoods was our main source of food and income.

        1. Yes indeed, the way we think about food and the foods we eat are very different from one place to another. Here in North America, much of our shrimp is imported. It’s a costly food, and therefore associated with luxury and special occasions.

          By contrast, beef, chicken and pork are everyday foods here because we raise a lot of livestock here. It used to be that most families in Canada had a homestead and raised a modest number of animals for eggs, milk, and meat. Even though our meat, dairy and egg supply is mostly met by large businesses now, many people are returning to homesteading as a way to eat healthy foods and earn an income. So what is a luxury on the island where you grow up is for us that same staple and source of income that fresh fish and prawns represent for you 🙂

  4. This was such an interesting read!! My fiance has high BP so I am always worried about him eating the right kinds of foods and his family inhales shrimp so good to know! Thank you!

    1. Your fiance should speak to his doctor about a healthy diet, or see a referral to a dietitian who can help him make the right choices for his condition. Some foods can make health conditions or interact with medications. Even foods that aren’t normally restricted may be a problem for some people, so I’d hesitate to declare that shrimp is absolutely safe for your fiance. But it’s likely that he can include them in his diet at least occasionally, and in moderation 🙂

        1. I hope the doctor is discussing nutrition with him regularly. It’s a day to day issue, but many doctors overlook it.

  5. So can I just tell you that I love shrimp and most seafood! I love the research you provided on the topic as many of us don’t know what we are getting out of what we’re eating. Great read. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful, Anissa! I really love my shrimp too. This year, I decided I was going to get a handle on it before we serve that shrimp cocktail ring at Christmas dinner! Now I know what’s healthy for me – and when to stop 🙂

  6. Cholesterol is a much reviled but nonetheless important component of the human diet and present in many nutritious foods. It is important for good functioning of the brain and nervous system, and dietary cholesterol doesn’t correlate well with serum cholesterol or with the ratios of “good” to “bad” cholesterol. It’s a complex and multi-factorial issue. However, the fat and cholesterol scare hasn’t made the Western population any healthier or any fitter. Happy holidays, and let’s hear it for real food!

    1. I couldn’t agree more! All that fear of fats and cholesterol starting in the 80s didn’t do us any good. We have very high rates of obesity, including childhood obesity. And type 2 diabetes is now seen even in children. We may have seen a decline in deaths from heart disease, but are we really improving our health or quality of life? Hospital visits associated with heart disease are increasing, so all this fear mongering isn’t having the desired impact.

      I’m with you: we should just learn to eat real food in healthy portions, and to enjoy a good variety of different nutrients.

  7. Great insight! Love indulging on shrimp around the holidays but didn’t know how much a portion size was. Thanks for sharing and the reminder to lay off the cocktail sauce 😛

    1. I think very few of us realize how small a healthy portion is, especially when it comes to foods like meat and fish. We are used to huge portions like 8 oz or 12 oz steaks, and supper plates that are half-filled with big chunks of fish, seafood, or chicken. In reality, those portions represent several servings each. Although we are meant to consume a number of servings of meat and alternatives each day, our bodies we don’t need to consume them all in one meal. If we feel stuffed after the meal, it’s probably because the portions of meat, seafood, and high-carbohydrate foods were too big.

    1. I rarely encounter anyone who is looking to gain weight. So many of us are plagued with being chronically overweight, that we forget there are some who need to gain in order to reach a healthy weight. I will most certainly do some research into healthy ways to gain weight, and will create a post for you on that subject. Thanks so much for the request!

    1. Shrimp is probably my favourite seafood as well, Martha. I love to eat cocktail shrimp with the sauce, or sometimes just a little lemon juice, It would be really easy for me to overdo it!

    1. Portions for meat, fish, and meat alternatives are measured differently in Canada and the US. So if you read an American article on portion size, it will usually give the serving as 4 ounces instead of 2-1/2. So you’d get a couple more shrimp if you follow those guidelines. The difference is, you’d eat fewer portions of meat and alternatives each day because they’re larger 🙂

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