Monday 22 April 2024

Is Shrimp Good for You?

Shrimp is a type of shellfish typically found in oceans. Some shrimp species are also found in freshwater lakes, streams, and rivers.

Shrimp are a major source of seafood worldwide. They are touted for their nutritional value, but concerns about their cholesterol content exist.

Due to their nutrient content, shrimp have been studied for their potential benefits for heart health, oxidative stress, brain health, and various diseases.

The following article covers various features of shrimp, including its nutrition, possible benefits, downsides, and how to cook them.

What Is Shrimp?

Shrimp are members of the phylum Arthropoda (arthropods) and the subphylum Crustacea (crustaceans), of which there are thousands of species. They are related to crabs, lobsters, and other shellfish.

Shrimp is considered one of the world's most economically significant types of seafood. Its use dates back to ancient Rome and Greece. In the culinary world, shrimp are incredibly versatile due to their mild flavor and firm texture. They're often found in Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Asian dishes.

Wild shrimp can be found in oceans and freshwater bodies worldwide. Shrimp are also commonly farmed in many countries, including the United States.

You can recognize shrimp by their small but long bodies and translucent appearance. Typically, shrimp are pink, gray, red, or brown.

There are over 2,000 known species of shrimp. However, some are more commonly used than others, including:

  • Asian tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon) have distinctive black and white stripes across their back and tail. They are native to the West Pacific Ocean and are often found in Asian dishes.
  • White shrimp (Litopeneus setiferus) are light gray and primarily found in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Like other shrimp, they are said to have a mild but slightly sweet taste.
  • Pink shrimp (Farfantepenaeus duorarum), or spotted shrimp, are abundant off the southwestern coast of Florida and sometimes burrow in the sand. Their mild flavor makes them a popular choice.
  • Brown shrimp (Farfantepenaeus aztecus) are primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic Ocean. They are brown with green or red tails and are said to have a slightly sweet flavor.
  • Brown rock shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris) have thick, stony shells and live deeper than many other types of shrimp. Due to their tough outer shell, you'll often find brown rock shrimp already peeled before purchase.

All shrimp are regarded for their nutrient profiles, which include antioxidants, amino acids, and healthy fats

Shrimp Nutrition

Like many other types of seafood, shrimp is nutrient-dense. Specifically, shrimp are a source of macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and bioactive substances, like antioxidants.

A three-ounce serving of cooked shrimp contains the following:

Shrimp is rich in proteincalciummagnesiumphosphoruspotassium, and zinc.

Shrimp is also relatively high in cholesterol. However, the nutrient density is thought to outweigh the cholesterol content of shrimp. Plus, research shows that not all dietary cholesterol affects blood cholesterol levels.

One of the predominant bioactive substances in shrimp is the antioxidant astaxanthin. As an antioxidant, astaxanthin is thought to be a potent free radical scavenger. In fact, astaxanthin's antioxidant potential is said to be ten times greater than other carotenoids. 

Importantly, shrimp contains omega-3 fatty acids and iodine, two nutrients that are not widespread in foods.

A three-ounce serving of cooked shrimp has 0.12 g of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and 0.12 g of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). It's recommended that adults over the age of 19 get between 1.1 g and 1.6 g of omega-3s per day.

Iodine is a mineral essential to normal thyroid function. Shrimp contains 13 micrograms (mcg) of iodine, about 9% of the daily value for the mineral.

Glucosamine is an amino monosaccharide found in shrimp and other crustaceans. It is a popular dietary supplement due to its role in cartilage repair. However, there is some concern that the way glucosamine is processed may trigger an allergic reaction in people with a shellfish allergy.

Is Shrimp Good for You?

Shrimp is low in calories and high in nutrition, making it a health-conscious choice for most people.

Barring a shellfish allergy, shrimp can be a part of an overall healthy diet due to its nutrient content and potential health benefits. Possible shrimp benefits range from heart health to inflammation management.

A Source of Omega-3s and More

Shrimp waste has been found to contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and astaxanthin, an antioxidant.

Studies have linked omega-3s as well as astaxanthin to health benefits. While omega-3 fatty acids are known to be heart-healthy, astaxanthin is a free radical scavenger.

One lab study examined the effects of omega-3 fatty acids and astaxanthin in shrimp. In the study, shrimp oil containing the two types of nutrients was found to reduce fat accumulation in fat cells. These results have yet to be duplicated in humans, though.

Observational studies have shown a correlation between seafood intake and better health outcomes, especially regarding heart health. This is thought to be partly due to the omega-3s found in many types of seafood, including shrimp.

In clinical trials, the EPA and DHA (two omega-3s found in shrimp) have also reduced the risk of heart failure and coronary heart disease. However, some research results have been conflicting.

Is Shrimp's Cholesterol a Concern?

Many people wonder about the health effects of shrimp's cholesterol content.

There are 161 mg of cholesterol in a typical three-ounce serving of shrimp.

The American Heart Association previously recommended no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet. However, this recommendation has since been revoked since the updated 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

This change is due to research that has been unable to prove a strong correlation between dietary cholesterol intake and the development of heart disease. Specifically, dietary cholesterol has not been shown to significantly increase blood cholesterol or the risk of heart disease in human trials.

Regardless, it's still recommended to watch your intake of dietary cholesterol since many foods high in cholesterol are also high in other types of fat, like saturated fats and trans fats. Unlike cholesterol, high intake of these types of fats has been linked to increased blood cholesterol as well as a high risk of heart disease.

It's worth noting that some people may be more sensitive to dietary cholesterol than others. People with familial hypercholesterolemia or those who may be sensitive to dietary cholesterol should talk with a healthcare provider regarding any necessary diet changes.

It Contains a Powerful Carotenoid

Carotenoids are antioxidants and natural pigments found in many types of foods that exhibit yellow, orange, red, and purple colors.

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that gives shrimp and other seafood its red color.

Studies show that compared to other types of carotenoids, including beta-carotene, astaxanthin has 100-500 times more antioxidant activity. This has led researchers to study astaxanthin for its potential benefits for health conditions like diabeteshypertension, cancer, heart disease, and neurological disorders.

Other research has focused on astaxanthin for ocular diseases. According to one study, astaxanthin has anti-inflammatory properties that may target oxidative stress and other factors that lead to ocular diseases.

Astaxanthin has also been shown to help prevent atherosclerosis, a common disease impacting blood vessels, through inflammation reduction and improved lipid and glucose metabolism.

In an animal study, astaxanthin supplementation was correlated with improvements in antioxidant activity in rats with diabetes, suggesting a potential role in diabetic treatment.

It should be noted that most of the research just mentioned has been performed on animals or in lab settings rather than on human subjects. Also, studies have looked at astaxanthin in general rather than astaxanthin extracted from shrimp specifically.

Is Wild Caught or Farmed Shrimp Better for Me?

You're typically given two options when shopping for shrimp: wild-caught or farmed.

While both options are nutrient-rich shrimp, there are distinct differences worth considering.

Wild-caught shrimp has been sourced straight from oceans and freshwater sources. On the other hand, farm-raised shrimp have been bred, born, and harvested in a controlled environment, such as a water tank at a fish farm.

About 90% of the seafood sold in the U.S. is imported, with half of that supply coming from fish farms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for screening imported shrimp that have been farm-raised or wild-caught.

In countries outside of the U.S., it is common to give farm-raised fish antibiotics to prevent infections or illnesses. However, using antibiotics in fish is prohibited in the U.S. and the FDA screens incoming shrimp for this purpose.

Despite the best efforts of the FDA, farm-raised shrimp treated with antibiotics may still make its way to U.S. grocery store shelves.

Eating shrimp that contains antibiotics may increase your risk for certain illnesses or infections.

Therefore, it's recommended that you purchase farmed shrimp sourced in the U.S. It's also a good idea to look for wild-caught shrimp, which is never treated with antibiotics.

Who Should Avoid Shrimp?

Some people may need to limit how much shrimp they eat or avoid it altogether.

A shellfish allergy is one of the most common food allergies in the world.

You should avoid shrimp if you have a shellfish allergy. You must seek immediate attention if you have a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms include itching, hives, swelling, trouble breathing, and shortness of breath.

Limiting how much shrimp you eat may be necessary if a healthcare provider has told you to eat a diet low in cholesterol. Keep in mind, though, that shrimp is not thought to significantly raise blood cholesterol levels, possibly due to its content of healthy fats.

Shrimp is not thought to interact with any medications. However, there is some concern that omega-3 fatty acids (like those found in shrimp) may interact with anticoagulants.

Be safe and check with a healthcare provider before increasing your shrimp intake if you take anticoagulants or other medications.

How to Cook Shrimp

There are a few different ways to cook shrimp, all of which are fairly simple.

Before you cook shrimp, though, you'll need to know what to look for while shopping.

Once you've decided if you want farmed or wild-caught shrimp, it's time to look for signs of quality.

Fresh, quality shrimp feels firm. Shrimp that is mushy or slimy has probably already gone bad.

Good shrimp is also semi-translucent and pink or gray in color. If any black spots are visible anywhere on the shrimp, it may indicate that they're starting to lose freshness.

Good shrimp should have a mild smell. Bad shrimp, on the other hand, smells like ammonia.

The most common shrimp cooking methods include grilling, pan-searing, roasting, frying, and boiling. You can find numerous shrimp recipes online using these and other cooking methods.

Boiling shrimp may be one of the quickest ways to get a meal on the table. However, many people wonder how long to boil shrimp. Shrimp should only be boiled for a few minutes or so and will be done when it's no longer translucent.

Other cooking methods may take a bit longer, but, in general, shrimp is not difficult to prepare.

Shrimp can be served hot or cold, as an appetizer, or as a main dish. Shrimp is also often added to gumbos, stews, pastas, fajitas, sushi, and salads.


Shrimp is a type of shellfish and one of the most widely eaten seafoods worldwide. It's a source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant.

Shrimp may be beneficial for heart health, brain health, inflammation, and diabetes.

Although shrimp is high in dietary cholesterol, it's not thought to raise blood cholesterol and may be a part of a healthy diet for most people. People with a shellfish allergy should avoid shrimp, however.

Talk with a healthcare provider to learn more about shrimp nutrition or if you're unsure if this shellfish is safe for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can dogs eat shrimp?

According to the American Kennel Club, cooked shrimp is safe for dogs to eat.

Nutrients in shrimp are safe for both humans and dogs alike. Just be sure to only give your dog 1-2 pieces of shrimp at a time. And remember that raw shrimp may not be safe for dogs.

Can you eat shrimp while pregnant?

Shrimp is considered safe to eat during pregnancy.

However, people who are pregnant should only eat cooked shrimp as raw shrimp may contain potentially harmful pathogens.

Otherwise, cooked shrimp can provide nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, that are important during pregnancy.

Is shrimp high in cholesterol?

A 3-ounce serving of shrimp contains 161 mg of cholesterol, which is considered high.

Research shows, however, that dietary cholesterol alone does not increase blood cholesterol levels as previously believed. Instead, foods high in saturated and trans fat may raise blood cholesterol.

Therefore, it may be safe to eat shrimp even if your cholesterol is high but check with a healthcare provider first.

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