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Ask Tufts Experts March 2009 Issue

Q: I am confused by whether shrimp and other shellfish are good in the diet due to attributes such as being high in protein, low in fat and low in calories, or bad because they are high in cholesterol. Please clarify.

Answer :  The good news for shrimp and other shellfish is that the major dietary factor that raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is saturated fat, not dietary cholesterol, according to Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts’ Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. Although a three-ounce serving of shrimp has 166 milligrams of cholesterol— more than half what you should consume in a day—it has almost zero saturated fat. So shrimp and other shellfish are a good substitute for entrees containing meat and dairy fat, both high in saturated fat. At just 84 calories in a three-ounce serving of shrimp, it can also help keep down your diet’s calorie count—as long as you don’t batter and fry the shrimp or serve swimming in butter!

Shrimp are also a source of protein (18 grams per serving), vitamin B12, selenium, niacin, iron, phosphorus and zinc. Be aware, however, that you can’t count on shrimp and other shellfish for the health-promoting omega- 3 fatty acids found in salmon and other fatty fish. A serving of shrimp contains only 295 milligrams of total omega-3s—about one-sixth the amount in a comparable serving of salmon.

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