Shellfish and fish are part of a healthy diet

September 27, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend two 3-ounce servings of fish per week. Unfortunately, according to a 2005 national survey by the Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy at the University of Maryland, more than half of Americans eat seafood only twice a month or less.

Studies continually reveal that eating more fish and shellfish would be a good idea for most people. In 2001, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that women who ate fish two to four times a week had a 48 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke - the most common kind - than women who ate fish less than once a month. An earlier JAMA article, in 1998, revealed that men who ate fish and shellfish at least once a week were about half as likely to suffer sudden cardiac death as men who ate fish less than once a month.


The Maryland survey showed some people avoid seafood because of concerns about mercury, even though mercury-related seafood advisories are intended only for young children, pregnant and nursing women, and women who might become pregnant. For most people, eating mercury contained in fish and shellfish is not a health concern.

The advisory applies only to high-mercury fish. Simply put, those at risk should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish, and they should limit eating albacore tuna to once a week. You can eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. Shrimp and crab are low in mercury; lobster is a bit higher but still not risky. See the Maryland center's mercury-related Web site at for details.

Because tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per week.

Three ounces of steamed shrimp, crab or lobster have only about 85 calories, and all are an excellent source of vitamin B-12.

Consuming more saturated fat, from butter, cheese or other sources, could cause your blood cholesterol to rise. So, watch what you eat with that shrimp, crab or lobster.

Breading and frying that three ounces of shrimp will add 120 calories to the dish. Melting two tablespoons of butter for lobster will add 200 calories and saturated fat.

Follow the Dietary Guidelines recommendation and try to include two 3-ounce servings of shellfish and/or fish in your diet every week. For more information, visit and click on tips and resources.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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