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.