Top 10 health benefits of shellfish

March 4, 2024

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<img src=",413" srcset=";resize=360,239 360w,;resize=180,119 180w, " sizes="(max-width: 620px) 100vw, 620px" width="620" height="413" class="wp-image-873144 alignnone size-landscape_thumbnail" alt="A selection of shellfish" title="Top 10 health benefits of shellfish" /> <div>
<h2 class="p1">What are shellfish?</h2>
<p class="p1">Shellfish are aquatic animals that have a shell. Most live in salt water but some species may be found in fresh water. Shellfish, and seafood in general, provide an ideal package of nutrients and make an important contribution to a <a href="/howto/guide/balanced-diet" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">healthy diet</span></a>. For this reason we are advised to eat two portions per week, with one being rich in the healthy omega-3 variety of fats.</p>
<p class="p1">Shellfish are eaten in many different ways in various cuisines, depending on their flavour and the style of cooking. All shellfish are low in calories, and a good source of protein and healthy fats; they provide a wide array of nutrients, including zinc, vitamin B12, iron and selenium. Shellfish are most nutritious when steamed or baked rather than breaded or fried.</p>
<h2 class="p1">Types of shellfish</h2>
<p class="p1">Shellfish are divided into two main types:</p>
<p class="p1"><strong>Shelled molluscs:</strong></p>
<li class="p1">clams</li>
<li class="p1">oysters</li>
<li class="p1">mussels</li>
<li class="p1">scallops</li>
<p class="p1"><strong>Crustaceans:</strong></p>
<li class="p1">prawns</li>
<li class="p1">shrimps</li>
<li class="p1">crayfish</li>
<li class="p1">lobsters</li>
<li class="p1">crabs</li>
<h2 class="p1">Health benefits of shellfish include:</h2>
<li class="p1">Rich in amino acids</li>
<li class="p1">May reduce the risk of heart disease</li>
<li class="p1">May support the immune system</li>
<li class="p1">May protect the skin from ageing</li>
<li class="p1">May support bone health</li>
<li class="p1">May support healthy weight</li>
<li class="p1">May support brain health</li>
<li class="p1">May support joint health</li>
<li class="p1">May protect your vision</li>
<li class="p2">May support the thyroid</li>
<p><b>Discover more great guides on our</b> <a href="/health" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2"><b>healthy hub</b></span></a> <b>or check out the </b><a href="/howto/guide/oily-fish-guide" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1"><b>health benefits of oily fish</b></span></a><b> and the </b><span class="s1"><b><a href="/howto/guide/are-prawns-good-you" target="_blank" rel="noopener">health benefits of prawns</a>.</b></span></p>
<h2 class="p1"><i> </i>Are shellfish sustainable?</h2>
<p class="p1">The sustainability of shellfish depends on the variety, the country of origin and the method with which they are harvested. For example, smaller prawns (such as cold-water prawns or Northern shrimp) are more sustainable than the larger king or tiger prawns; farmed or hand-gathered mussels are a more sustainable choice to those caught wild, as wild mussel fishing may disturb the seabed.</p>
<p class="p1">Always look for a sustainability certification when buying shellfish and check the <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">Marine Conservation Society Good Fish Guide</span></a> for the most relevant information, including current sustainability ratings.</p>
<p class="p1">Check out our expert guide on <a href="/howto/how-to-eat-fish-sustainably" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">how to eat fish sustainably</span></a>.</p>
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<h2 class="p1">How to cook shellfish</h2>
<p class="p1">Cooking styles vary based on the type of shellfish. Molluscs, such as mussels and clams, need to be prepared before cooking and are typically steamed. You can read more about how to cook mussels in our cooking <a href="/howto/guide/how-cook-mussels" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">guide</span></a>.</p>
<p class="p1">Oysters may be eaten raw or cooked. We have a guide on <a href="/howto/guide/ultimate-guide-oysters" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">how to cook oysters</span></a>, but first you need to know how to open or ‘shuck’ them. You can read more about this in our guide – <a href="/howto/guide/how-shuck-oysters" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">how to shuck oysters</span></a>.</p>
<p class="p1">Crustaceans, such as prawns, crabs and lobsters, are a bit more versatile when it comes to cooking and can be used in a variety of dishes, from curries to salads and barbecues to pastas. They must be cooked first, but can be enjoyed hot or cold.</p>
<p class="p1">Find <a href="/recipes/collection/shellfish-recipes" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recipe inspiration</a> <span class="s1">here.</span></p>
<h2 class="p1">Health benefits of shellfish</h2>
<p class="p1"><b>1. Rich in amino acids</b></p>
<p class="p1">Shellfish – especially crustaceans – are high in <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">amino acids</span></a>. Known as the ‘building blocks’ of protein, amino acids are necessary for growth and repair as well as for the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters.</p>
<p class="p1">The protein provided by shellfish is also <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">highly digestible</span></a> because of its low connective tissue content. This makes shellfish a useful food source for the elderly, who need higher protein levels to maintain muscle mass.</p>
<p class="p1"><b>2. May reduce the risk of heart disease</b></p>
<p class="p1">Shellfish, especially mussels, contain polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and good levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These PUFAs may help balance cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">heart disease</span></a>.</p>
<p class="p1"><b>3. May support the immune system</b></p>
<p class="p1">Certain shellfish are rich in protective carotenoids, including beta-carotene that converts to vitamin A when <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">eaten</span></a>, and which supports healthy <a href=",the%20immunosuppressive%20effects%20of%20aging" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">immunity</span></a>. Shellfish are also a useful source of the mineral <a href=",%2C%20eye%2C%20and%20heart%20health" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">selenium</span></a>, which plays an important role in immune health.</p>
<p class="p1"><b>4. May protect the skin from ageing</b></p>
<p class="p1">Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that is red-orange in colour and is typically seen in the more pink shellfish, such as crayfish, prawns and lobsters. This antioxidant helps protect the skin from ageing and supports hydration and <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">elasticity</span></a>.</p>
<p class="p1"><b>5. May help support bone health</b></p>
<p class="p1">Most shellfish are a good source of vitamin B12, an important nutrient required for healthy bone formation. Low levels of vitamin B12 may increase your risk of <a href=",%2C%22%20according%20to%20some%20experts." target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">osteoporosis</span></a> as you age. Shellfish also provide <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">bone-healthy nutrients</span></a> such as vitamins A and D and potassium.</p>
<p class="p2"><b>6. May support a healthy weight </b></p>
<p class="p1">Shellfish are low in calories, rich in <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">protein</span></a> and a useful source of healthy <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">omega-3 fats</span></a>, making them an appropriate food for weight management.</p>
<p class="p1"><b>7. May support a healthy brain </b></p>
<p class="p1">Being a useful source of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fats makes shellfish of potential benefit for <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">supporting brain health</span></a> and cognitive function.</p>
<p class="p1"><b>8. May support joint health</b></p>
<p class="p1">Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory action and have been shown in several <a href=",inflammatory%20bowel%20disease%2C%20and%20dysmenorrhea" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">studies</span></a> to offer protection for joints.</p>
<p class="p1"><b>9. May protect your vision</b></p>
<p class="p1">Regularly eating shellfish and fish appears to reduce the <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">risk of age-related macular degeneration</span></a> and supports <a href=",%2C%20eye%2C%20and%20heart%20health" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">eye health</span></a>.</p>
<p class="p1"><b>10. May support the thyroid </b></p>
<p class="p1">Shellfish are a useful source of <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">iodine</span></a>, a trace mineral needed by the thyroid for metabolism. They also supply the amino acid <a href=",thyroid%20functions%20in%20hypertensive%20patients" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">taurine</span></a>, which appears to support thyroid function in those with thyroid conditions.</p>
<h2 class="p1">Can shellfish be bad for you?</h2>
<p class="p1">Although generally safe for consumption, shellfish can grow in certain unhealthy habitats, or be exposed to some unhealthy farming and handling practices. The filter feeding nature of oysters, clams and mussels may also occasionally present health risks.</p>
<p class="p5"><b> </b>These may include:</p>
<p class="p1"><b>Heavy metals – </b>shellfish may accumulate heavy metals from their environment. However, levels are monitored and the average heavy metal concentrations in shellfish are currently below <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s2">maximum limits</span></a>, making shellfish safe to eat.</p>
<p class="p1"><b>Contamination</b><strong> –</strong> the nature of how shellfish live and eat means they may come into contact with various organisms that could be harmful to humans when eaten. That is why it’s important that shellfish are washed, prepared carefully and cooked thoroughly before eating. For example, check that fresh mussels are alive when you buy them. Their shells will either be closed or will close when you gently tap them.</p>
<p class="p1"><b>Allergies<strong> –</strong> </b>shellfish allergies are common. If you have a known allergy, you must avoid shellfish.</p>
<p class="p2"><span class="s3">Check out the NHS <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span class="s1">guidance on food allergies</span></a>.</span></p>
<h2>Shellfish recipes</h2>
<div><a href="/recipes/squid-prawn-chickpea-nduja-stew">Squid, prawn &amp; chickpea nduja stew</a></div>
<div><a href="/recipes/thai-prawn-ginger-noodles">Thai prawn &amp; ginger noodles</a></div>
<div><a href="/recipes/mussels-leeks-saffron">Mussels with leeks &amp; saffron</a></div>
<div><a href="/recipes/crab-tangled-asparagus-salad-toast">Crab &amp; tangled asparagus salad on toast</a></div>
<div><a href="/recipes/oysters-oriental-dressing">Oysters with chilli &amp; ginger dressing</a></div>
<div><a href="/recipes/lobster-rolls">Lobster rolls</a></div>
<div><a href="/recipes/speedy-spaghetti-clams">Speedy spaghetti with clams</a></div>
<h2 class="p1">Enjoyed this? Now read…</h2>
<p class="p1"><a href="/howto/guide/healthy-fish-to-eat" target="_blank" rel="noopener">10 healthy fish to eat</a><br>
<a href="/howto/guide/ingredient-focus-salmon" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Top 5 health benefits of salmon</a><br>
<a href="/howto/guide/best-sources-omega-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Top 10 sources of omega-3</a></p>
<p> </p>
<p class="p1"><i>This article was reviewed on 6 February 2024 by Kerry Torrens.</i></p>
<p><em>Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine</a> (BANT) and the <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Complementary &amp; Natural Healthcare Council</a> (CNHC). Find out more at <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>.</em></p>
<p><em>All health content on <span class="skimlinks-unlinked"></span> is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">terms and conditions</a> for more information.</em></p>

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