Seafood Nutrition

All seafood is high in protein but not quite as high as poultry or red meat. On the average, 19 percent of seafood is protein. Shellfish meat contains a little less protein, with an average of 16 percent. In a serving size of 4 ounces (110 g), this translates to 22 grams of protein for fish and 18 grams of protein for shellfish. Seafood is also very high in minerals and vitamins. It contains a little less cholesterol than meat or chicken. The average fish has about the same amount of cholesterol as a lean piece of beef or a skinless chicken breast. A serving of 4 ounces (110 g) of seafood only contains between 50 and 80 milligrams of cholesterol. If you're watching your cholesterol intake, be aware of these exceptions (all given for 4-ounce or 110 g servings): Lobster 106 mg

Crayfish 157 mg

Shrimp 173 mg

Squid 263 mg

The real health benefit of eating seafood is its much lower saturated fat content. Seafood contains high polyunsaturated fatty acid (called omega-3), which nutritionists consider important for people susceptible to heart and blood pressure problems. Even though many people switched to seafood for that reason, more recent research published in 1997 disputed the cardiac benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Nevertheless, seafood is still a good, healthy fare.

It is harder to determine how much fat is in a serving of seafood than in the meat of domesticated land animals. The animals we raise are on controlled diets so the fat content of the meat or seafood that reaches our plates is fairly constant for a specific cut of meat. That's not true for seafood they catch in the wild. The same species of fish can vary considerably in the amount of fat depending what the fish have been eating or the life cycle they are in. The cod steaks you bought three months ago may have been very lean, but when you look at cod in the supermarket today, you see a layer of fat between the skin and the flesh. What we know as a lean fish may be much fatter just before spawning season. Herring, for instance, may contain only 5 percent fat one season but 15 percent in another. In general, farm-raised seafood has slightly higher overall fat content than the same species caught in the wild and does not very with its life cycle.

There is more fat stored in some parts of the fish than in others. The liver always contains a lot. Muscle, the fleshy part we eat, has fat within the fibers similar to marbling in beef. Fat also surrounds fish muscles, just like in red meats, but in lesser amounts. In red meat the surrounding fat is easy to see and you can trim it. In seafood it is harder to see and cut out because it is very similar in color and texture to the meat.

The good news is that, overall, seafood have less of the unhealthy type saturated fat, and more of the desirable type, polyunsaturated fat, than other meats, and that makes fish a "hot" item for people who are concerned about their fat intake and cholesterol levels. This isn't such good news for the cook, because it is polyunsaturated fat that makes fish spoil much faster than other meats. It turns rancid quickly.

Seafood also contains many important micronutrients, particularly iodine, that people living far inland used to lack before the days of iodized salt. The introduction of fish on Fridays, in fact, had significant health benefits in restoring the body's iodine needs, provided the fish was not from fresh-water source.

TASTINGS Is it oil or fat?

Some cookbooks use the term "oil" instead of "fat" when referring to fish, "oily fish" instead of "fatty fish." The only difference is in the spelling. They are both the same. The reality is that when you cook the fish, the fat in it melts and becomes oil.

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