Is Shrimp Good for You? It’s Complicated

Americans aren’t particularly enthusiastic about seafood. We eat less than half of what a Japanese or Indonesian person does. Less than a third of the average Icelander.  But there is one big exception: shrimp.  Our appetite for the fat little crustacean has increased for decades, with the average American now eating almost six pounds per year, far more than any other ocean product.  But how healthy is our favorite seafood? Is it good for our bodies?

Shrimp is a good source of protein, on par with, say, a rib-eye steak. It’s high in calcium and vitamin B12. It’s low in saturated fat, which makes it heart-healthy. And while shrimp is high in cholesterol, experts no longer worry as much about dietary cholesterol’s effect on health.

But if you are looking for the other nutritional benefits we expect from seafood, you will be disappointed. Shrimp tails aren’t particularly high in omega-3 fatty acid, iron or iodine. “From a nutritional perspective,” said Zach Koehn, a nutrition researcher at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions, “it’s kind of like the white meat of the sea.”

Most seafoods are richer in nutrients than land-based meat, but the shrimp species that Americans consume are low on that list, near the bottom with cod and tilapia. However, because they’re near the bottom of the food chain, shrimp don’t generally tend to accumulate the environmental toxins, like mercury or dioxins, found in big predators such as tuna or swordfish. This puts them on the Food and Drug Administration’s “best choices” list for pregnant women and children, meaning they’re considered safe to eat two or three times a week.

So are there any health downsides to shrimp? A few. Frozen shrimp may contain preservatives which some people with sulfite or phosphate sensitivities may want to avoid. And farmed shrimp can pose a few issues of their own, depending on their country of origin and the condition of individual farms.  Mercury and arsenic can build up in the sludge under shrimp ponds, said José Antonio Rodríguez Martín, a biologist who has studied the issue for the National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology in Spain. However, even the highest levels of heavy metals Dr. Martín has found in Ecuadorean farmed shrimp were half of what one sees in the least contaminated tuna. He said that meant they posed “no excessive risk” for most people.

In many countries, shrimp farms also use large amounts of antibiotics to keep the animals healthy, which can cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to them.

Now for the really bad news: When it comes to the health of the oceans, many experts say shrimp is among the most damaging foods you can eat. That’s not because shrimp are endangered — most species are resilient — but because of what we have to do to get them.

Most prawns on American plates are imported, primarily from Asia and Latin America. More than half of them are raised in farms, which can pollute the coasts and sea with runoff like fertilizers and antibiotics.  But fishing them isn’t without drawbacks. Because shrimp are so small, the nets used to catch them tend to catch everything else in their path. In some countries, as much as 90 percent of what comes up in a shrimp net isn’t shrimp. Those sharks, turtles, baby snappers and hundreds of other species tend to die in the nets or on the deck of the boat.

In some places, shrimp production has been downright horrific for humans as well. In 2015, The Associated Press revealed the wide use of slave labor in the Thai shrimp industry. The U.S. Department of Labor has also called out shrimp production in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia for using child or forced labor.   The Outlaw Ocean Project offers a damning look at shrimp farming in India that raised concerns about labor practices, banned antibiotics, and environmental damage.

If you are worried about your effect on the environment, farmed shrimp probably has a slight edge. The most sustainable products come from the United States and Canada. But they represent less than 1% of the U.S. market and can be hard to find.  Ecuador, the second biggest source of shrimp in the United States, is a good alternative.  Honduras and Thailand have relatively strong environmental regulations, too, despite Thailand’s poor human rights record. Avoid most shrimp from India, Indonesia and Mexico.

Wild-caught shrimp are more expensive but also tastier and less likely to be contaminated with environmental toxins. If you’re buying them, fishing practices in the United States and Canada  tend to be less harmful to ocean life than they are elsewhere. Otherwise, look for shrimp certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.  Beyond that, you are best off consulting an online guide.

— Read the full article b



Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.