The real deal on eating shrimp

Here’s how they stack up nutritionally, plus a tasty recipe for the grill

Published: August 07, 2015 06:00 AM

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If you read our recent investigation, “How Safe is Your Shrimp?” you might be inclined to avoid these crustaceans altogether. Our tests detected bacteria on 60 percent of the 342 raw frozen samples we tested, and traces of illegal antibiotics on 11 of the samples. But if you buy shrimp carefully and handle it properly, it can be a safe and healthy food. And while shrimp’s nutritional reputation has suffered in the past due to its cholesterol profile, it’s actually full of protein as well as certain vitamins and minerals. It also has less mercury than tuna. Here’s the real deal when it comes to eating shrimp, America’s favorite seafood, plus a simple, healthy grilled shrimp recipe from Consumer Report’s test kitchen.

Cholesterol

Shrimp does have a lot of dietary cholesterol: A 3-ounce serving packs 179 milligrams of it, more than the half of the 300 mg per day that the government has long recommended as the daily maximum. But the government is actually contemplating new recommendations that downplay the dangers of dietary cholesterol, since the newest research suggests that it isn’t strongly linked to the risk of heart attack and stroke. “It’s really saturated fat, not dietary cholesterol that is more strongly linked to cardiovascular risk,” explains Consumer Reports dietitian Amy Keating, R.D.  

Fat

When it comes to fats, shrimp get high marks for heart-health. A 3-ounce serving contains only trace amounts of saturated and unsaturated fats, compared with 13 grams of fat, 5 of which are saturated, in a typical 3-ounce beef burger. Of course, how you cook your shrimp is important, too. “Avoid pan frying or deep frying your shrimp, which can add fats,” Keating says. “The healthiest option is to grill or steam them.” Another healthy cooking tip: "Try grilling jumbo shrimp in their shells and they will come out moist and flavorful without adding extra fats,” says Claudia Gallo, Consumer Reports in-house chef.

Find out if antibiotics in shrimp can spark allergic reactions, which bug repellents really work, and which grills aced our ratings tests.

Calories

Shrimp can also be low-calorie, says Keating. That same 3-ounce burger has about 212 calories (bun not included), while a 3-ounce serving of grilled or steamed shrimp tops out at about 100 calories. But avoid battered or deep-fried shrimp, and watch out for high-calorie dips and sauces, too. “They all add calories and fats, minimizing shrimp’s health benefits,” Keating says.

Protein

Even though shrimp has much less fat and fewer calories than a burger, it has almost as much protein: 19 grams for 3 ounces of shrimp, compared with 22 grams for the burger.

Vitamins and minerals

Shrimp is also a good source of vitamins B6 and B12. Our bodies need these vitamins to manufacture neurotransmitters, chemicals that help control alertness and mood. They’re also essential for keeping our immune systems strong. And it delivers a host of valuable minerals including, copper, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, and zinc.

Mercury

Unlike some other types of seafood, shrimp is low in mercury, which can harm the nervous system of a developing fetus or a young child. This makes it a good choice for women who are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant, as well as young children, according to Consumer Reports’ fish experts.

—Lauren Cooper

Have you stopped eating shrimp for some reason?

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Recipe: Spicy shrimp with mango salsa

In less than an hour you can prepare this delicious shrimp dish created by Consumer Reports test kitchen’s in-house chef Claudia Gallo. It’s colorful and healthy. Each portion provides 240 calories, 5 g of fat (almost none of which is saturated), and 25 grams of protein.

Placing the shrimp on skewers is a good idea, Gallo says, “It makes it easier to turn them over and provides thorough cooking.” But don’t leave them on the grill too long or they will become dry and tough. “Shrimp only need about two to three minutes of cooking on each side, depending on their size,” Gallo says.

Ingredients

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (CR recommends U.S. wild or responsibly farmed)

4 lime wedges

1 mango, peeled and finely chopped

1 small red pepper, finely chopped

1 cup fresh corn kernels

¼ cup finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

¼ cup chopped cilantro or mint leaves

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Method

In a large bowl, mix the salt, spices and olive oil.  Add the shrimp; toss well.  Let marinate while preparing the salsa.

In another large bowl, combine the mango, pepper, corn, onion, lime juice, cilantro, and pepper; set aside.

Heat the grill to medium-high heat.  Skewer shrimp on metal or bamboo skewers, placing about 4 shrimp on each skewer. (If using bamboo, soak first in water to prevent burning).

Grill 1-2 minutes per side until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through.  Serve with mango salsa and lime wedge.

Recipe makes 4 servings

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