Scallops are a type of shellfish eaten all over the world.
They live in saltwater environments and are caught in fisheries off the coasts of numerous countries.
The so-called adductor muscles inside their colorful shells are edible and sold as seafood. When prepared correctly, they have a slightly sweet taste and a tender, buttery texture.
Scallops are highly nutritious and may have impressive health benefits. However, people are often concerned about possible allergic reactions and the accumulation of heavy metals.
This article takes a detailed look at the health benefits and possible dangers of eating scallops.
Like most other fish and shellfish, scallops have an impressive nutritional profile.
A 3.53-ounce (100-gram) serving of steamed or boiled scallops pack (
- Calories: 137
- Carbs: 6.33 grams
- Fat: 0.98 grams
- Protein: 24 grams
- Omega-3 fatty acids: 205 mg
- Vitamin B12: 2.53 µg
- Calcium: 12 mg
- Iron: 0.68 mg
- Magnesium: 44 mg
- Phosphorous: 499 mg
- Potassium: 367 mg
- Zinc: 1.81 mg
- Copper: 0.039 mg
- Selenium: 25.5 µg
Scallops are an excellent source of several trace minerals, including selenium, zinc, and copper. These minerals are important to your health, yet some people don’t get enough of them.
Adequate selenium intake promotes a healthy immune system and proper thyroid function. Zinc is necessary for brain function and healthy growth, and copper may protect against heart disease (
In addition to these important trace minerals, scallops provide high quality protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Scallops offer many important nutrients, including trace minerals, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Being low in calories and high in protein, scallops can be a worthwhile addition to your diet if you’re trying to lose weight.
A 3.53-ounce (100-gram) serving of scallops provides close to 24 grams of protein for just 137 calories (
Protein helps you feel full for longer, which can help you reduce your overall calorie intake. What’s more, protein may increase your metabolism and help your body burn more energy (
Scallops and fish may also have unique properties that promote weight loss better than other protein sources.
For instance, a review found that frequently eating lean seafood instead of meat could reduce your energy intake by 4–9% and help prevent obesity (
Plus, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients in fish appear to help prevent obesity-related health issues like insulin resistance (
Additionally, an older 2014 study found that mice that were given diets high in fat and sugar gained less weight when fed scallop meat compared with other proteins. However, it remains unclear if the results from this mouse study translate to humans (
Increasing your protein intake through foods like scallops may support weight loss. Studies show that fish and scallops may even promote weight loss better than other types of protein.
Scallops contain certain nutrients that are important for your brain and nervous system.
One study revealed the importance of maternal B12 status during pregnancy for brain development in children. Supplementing with vitamin B12 before conception was associated with improved brain development in children at 2 years of age (
Zinc also appears to be important for brain health. A study in mice with Alzheimer’s disease showed that zinc deficiency worsened cognitive decline by driving inflammation (
Omega-3 fatty acids also benefit brain health and development.
For instance, research suggests that developing babies who don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids through their mothers’ diet may be at risk of developing psychiatric diagnoses as they grow up (
Scallops are rich in vitamin B12, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. Getting enough of these nutrients is essential for brain development and is associated with a reduced risk of mental decline and mood issues.
Scallops contain magnesium and potassium, two nutrients that help keep your heart healthy.
Low magnesium blood levels have been linked to atrial fibrillation, which is a type of irregular heartbeat. Low levels of this mineral have also been linked with stroke and artery calcification, which is a marker of clogged arteries (
A study in more than 9,000 people found that those with magnesium levels below 0.80 mmol/L had a 36% and 54% greater risk of dying of heart disease and heart attack, respectively (
Scallops are rich in potassium and magnesium. Sufficient levels of these nutrients may reduce your blood pressure and heart disease risk.
Some people are highly allergic to fish and shellfish, including scallops.
Studies suggest a prevalence as high as 10.3% for shellfish allergies in people of all ages (
That being said, scallops, oysters, mussels, and clams cause fewer allergic reactions than crab, lobster, and shrimp. Some people may be allergic to only certain types of shellfish while tolerating others (22).
Shellfish allergy is typically the result of your immune system reacting to a protein called tropomyosin (
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to shellfish include (22):
- indigestion, diarrhea, and vomiting
- tight throat and trouble swallowing
- hives over the entire body
- shortness of breath and coughing
- swollen tongue and lips
- blue or pale skin
- dizziness and confusion
In some cases, people may experience a life-threatening reaction after eating shellfish called anaphylactic shock. This requires immediate treatment (22).
Shellfish allergy is one of the most common food allergies. People with this condition may experience a reaction to eating scallops, which may include vomiting, hives, shortness of breath, and possibly life-threatening complications.
Depending on their environment, scallops may accumulate heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, lead, and arsenic.
Since your body cannot excrete heavy metals and because heavy metal build-up in your body can be dangerous, it’s important to limit your exposure from food, water, and environmental sources.
Chronic exposure to arsenic has been linked to the development of cancer, while lead build-up can damage major organs. Mercury poisoning leads to decreased brain function and developmental issues, while too much cadmium can cause kidney damage (
Unfortunately, seafood may contain varying amounts of heavy metals.
To date, there’s only limited research on heavy metal concentrations in scallops. The few studies that do exist on the topic suggest that scallop’s heavy metal content may differ by location, though in general, they tend to be high in cadmium (
Regardless, the health benefits of consuming scallops and other shellfish in moderation are generally thought to outweigh any risks associated with heavy metal exposure (
Research shows that heavy metals pose a risk to human health and may build up in shellfish. Scallops can have high amounts of cadmium depending on where they’re caught.
Due to their many health benefits, scallops can be a great addition to your diet.
They’re highly nutritious, rich in protein, and low in calories. However, they can cause allergic reactions in people with shellfish allergies.
Depending on where they’re caught, they can contain varying levels of heavy metals and other potential contaminants.
People who need to be wary of heavy metal exposure from fish — including older adults, children, pregnant and nursing people, or those who eat a lot of fish — should pay close attention to their seafood choices (28).
Fortunately, scallops are considered a “good choice,” or a lower mercury fish, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (29).
To reap the benefits of scallops and other seafood, it’s recommended to eat 2 to 3 servings of “good choice” fish per week. Aim to enjoy a variety of fish that are lower in mercury instead of relying on just one type (29).
If you’re an otherwise healthy adult who’s not allergic and doesn’t need to worry about excessive heavy-metal consumption, eating scallops should be safe.
A simple way to prepare them is searing them with butter, salt, and pepper.
Scallops are a nutritious source of protein and are generally safe to eat. Some people may need to limit or avoid eating scallops and fish in general due to allergies or heavy-metal accumulation.
Scallops are rich in protein and nutrients that promote heart and brain health.
Although they may accumulate certain heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium, they’re overall considered safe.
Unless you’re allergic or have been advised to watch your seafood intake, like if you’re pregnant, there’s little reason to avoid scallops.
They make a healthy and delicious addition to your meals.
Just one thing
Try this today: For a simple dinner, try serving garlic pan-fried scallops with grilled asparagus, lemon wedges, and crusty wholemeal bread.