Shrimp is one of the most commonly consumed types of shellfish.

It’s quite nutritious and provides high amounts of certain nutrients, such as iodine, that aren’t abundant in many other foods.

On the other hand, some people claim that shrimp is unhealthy due to its high cholesterol content.

Additionally, it’s commonly believed that farm-raised shrimp may have some negative health effects compared with wild-caught shrimp.

This article explores the evidence to determine if shrimp is a healthy food to include in your diet.

shrimp on wooden boardShare on Pinterest
4kodiak/Getty Images

Shrimp has an impressive nutrition profile.

It’s quite low in calories, providing only 84 calories in a 3-ounce serving (1).

Additionally, the same serving size provides more than 9 different vitamins and minerals (1).

Shrimp nutrition

Here’s an overview of the nutrients in a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of shrimp (1):

  • Calories: 84.2
  • Protein: 20.4 g
  • Iron: 0.433 mg
  • Phosphorus: 201 mg
  • Potassium: 220 mg
  • Zinc: 1.39 mg
  • Magnesium: 33.2 mg
  • Sodium: 94.4 mg

Shrimp is also one of the best food sources of iodine, an important mineral that many people are deficient in. Iodine is required for proper thyroid function and brain health (2).

Shrimp is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (3).

Summary

Shrimp is very nutritious. It’s fairly low in calories and provides a high amount of protein and healthy fats, as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Shrimp often gets a bad rap for its high cholesterol content.

A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving contains 161 mg of cholesterol (1).

Many people fear foods that are high in cholesterol due to the belief that they increase the cholesterol in your blood, and promote heart disease.

However, research shows this may not be the case for most people, as only a quarter of the population is sensitive to dietary cholesterol. For the rest, dietary cholesterol may only have a small impact on blood cholesterol levels (4).

This is because most of the cholesterol in your blood is produced by your liver, and when you eat foods high in cholesterol, your liver produces less (5).

Fatty acids

What’s more, shrimp contains several nutrients that may actually boost health, such as omega-3 fatty acids (3).

Studies suggest that, while most foods rich in cholesterol are also high in saturated fats, shrimp is an exception (6).

Although more research is needed to explore shrimp’s role in heart health, it has a variety of beneficial properties that may outweigh its cholesterol content.

Summary

Shrimp is high in cholesterol, but it also contains omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to promote heart health. Research on shrimp has also shown positive health effects.

The primary type of antioxidant in shrimp is a carotenoid called astaxanthin.

Astaxanthin is a component of algae, which is consumed by shrimp. For this reason, shrimp is a major source of astaxanthin. In fact, this antioxidant is responsible for the reddish color of shrimp cells (7).

When you consume astaxanthin, it may help protect against inflammation by preventing free radicals from damaging your cells. It’s been studied for its role in reducing the risk of several chronic diseases (7).

Heart and brain health

Many studies have found astaxanthin may help strengthen arteries, which may reduce the risk of heart attacks. It may also help increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, an important factor in heart health (8).

In addition, astaxanthin may be beneficial for brain health. Its anti-inflammatory properties may prevent damage to your brain cells that often leads to memory loss and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s (7).

Despite these findings, more human research is needed to determine the overall role that the astaxanthin in shrimp may have on overall health.

Summary

Shrimp contains an antioxidant called astaxanthin, which has been studied for its role in promoting brain and heart health.

Due to the high demand for shrimp in the United Sates, it’s often imported from other countries.

Between 75 and 80% of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported from other countries, like Thailand, China, Canada, Indonesia, and Vietnam (9).

Although this helps increase access to shrimp, most imported shrimp is farm-raised, which means it’s grown in industrial tanks that are submerged in bodies of water (10).

Imported seafood

Farm-raised seafood from other countries is frequently treated with antibiotics due to its high susceptibility to disease. However, the United States does not permit the use of antibiotics in shrimp and other shellfish (10).

For this reason, it’s illegal to import shrimp that contains antibiotics. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for inspecting imported shrimp to ensure it doesn’t contain antibiotics (11).

However, due to the high volume of shrimp imports, the FDA is unable to regulate all of them. Because of this, farm-raised shrimp contaminated with antibiotics has the potential to enter the U.S. food supply (12).

Using antibiotics in shrimp has not been confirmed to have any major adverse health effects. However, it may lead to antibiotic resistance, which can cause outbreaks of diseases that do not respond to antibiotic treatment (13).

If you’re concerned about antibiotics in shrimp, it’s best to opt for wild-caught shrimp, which is never treated with antibiotics. Additionally, you can be assured that shrimp caught and prepared in the United States does not contain antibiotics.

Summary

Farm-raised shrimp from some countries may be contaminated with antibiotics. To reduce your antibiotic exposure, it’s best to purchase wild-caught or farmed shrimp from countries where antibiotic use is illegal.

Shellfish, including shrimp, are classified as one of the top nine food allergies in the United States, along with fish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, and soy (14).

The most common trigger of shrimp allergies is tropomyosin, a protein found in shellfish. Other proteins in shrimp that may trigger an allergic reaction include arginine kinase and hemocyanin (15).

Symptoms of shellfish allergy

Symptoms of shrimp allergies vary and may include (16):

  • tingling in the throat
  • digestive issues
  • breathing difficulties
  • skin reactions

Some people with shrimp allergies may have anaphylactic reactions, as well. This is a dangerous, sudden reaction that can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, and even death if it is not treated immediately (16).

If you’re allergic to shrimp, the only way to prevent allergic reaction is to completely avoid eating it.

In some instances, even the vapors from cooking shrimp can trigger a reaction. So, those with shrimp allergies must also avoid situations where they may be exposed to it indirectly (16).

Summary

Shrimp contains a protein called tropomyosin that can trigger a serious allergic reaction for some. The only treatment for a shrimp

It’s important to choose high quality, fresh shrimp that isn’t damaged, infected, or contaminated.

When purchasing raw shrimp, make sure they’re firm. The shells should be translucent and grayish-green, pinkish tan, or light pink in color. Blackened edges or black spots on the shells may indicate quality loss (17).

Additionally, raw and cooked shrimp should have a mild, “ocean-like” or salty smell. Shrimp with an overwhelming “fishy” or ammonia-like odor is likely spoiled and unsafe to consume.

You should purchase shrimp from a knowledgeable and reputable supplier who can answer your questions about the shrimp’s country of origin and handling practices.

How to cook shrimp

Make sure your cooked shrimp is firm in texture, and white with a slight red or pink tint.

Shrimp can be prepared as an appetizer or in a dish, like curries or stir-fries. It can be covered in breadcrumbs or cooked on kebab sticks (18).

Summary

To choose high quality shrimp, it’s important to consider its odor and color. Purchase from a trusted supplier to get the best quality product.

Shrimp is high in several vitamins and minerals, and it’s a rich source of protein. Eating shrimp may also promote heart and brain health due to its content of omega-3 fatty acids and the antioxidant astaxanthin (7).

Although shrimp is high in cholesterol, it has not been found to have a negative impact on heart health (8).

Despite the health benefits of shrimp, there are some concerns about the quality of farm-raised shrimp that may be contaminated with antibiotics.

However, there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure you’re getting high quality shrimp, such as purchasing it from reputable suppliers.

Overall, shrimp is a healthy food that can fit well into a balanced diet.