Is Shellfish Healthier Than Regular Fish?


We’re always looking for foods that will contribute to a healthy diet; after all, a nutritional diet is one that is balanced in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, and carbohydrates.

Today, we’ll look at one aspect of a healthy diet: shellfish consumption.

We know that regular fish are a healthy addition to any diet—in fact, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help to keep your heart healthy, diminish the pain of arthritis, and reduce inflammation in the body. Fish are also a good source of protein. But what makes shellfish a great addition to your healthy diet? And are all types of shellfish equally healthy?


Shellfish, like lobster, shrimp, and clams, contain very little omega-3 compared to other fish that are high in the fatty acid, like anchovies, blue fish, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, lake trout, and tuna. Forget eating shellfish for the omega-3—calamari, blue crab, and oysters all contain about a fourth of the amount of omega-3 found in salmon or flounder.


You might be surprised to learn that a study of men eating shellfish found a strong association between lower cholesterol and the consumption of oysters, clams, mussels, and crabs.

Other Nutrients

Shellfish are a good source of zinc; and some, like blue mussels and manila clams, are also a good source of iron.


Many people deep-fry or bread their shellfish. Deep-frying removes some of the nutrients, however, and adds a lot of unwanted calories.


Like any food, but especially shellfish—which are known to cause the highest amount of foodborne illnesses—you must be careful with how it’s prepared and which types you eat.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends you avoid eating tomalley, which is a soft, green substance found in lobsters.

Food4Thought Bottom Line:

Shellfish contain some nutrients that you need for a healthy diet. But don’t rely just on shellfish to get them. It’s important to choose fish that are high in omega-3, like salmon, but eating shellfish every once in awhile can’t hurt, either—just don’t deep-fry or bread shellfish, as it removes the healthy nutrients and adds on a bunch of calories.

De Oliveira e Silva, E.R., et al., “Effects of shrimp consumption on plasma lipoproteins,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition November 1996; 64: 712–717.
Childs, M.T., et al., “Effects of shellfish consumption on lipoproteins in normolipidemic men,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 51: 1020–1027.
“Is shellfish as healthy as regular fish?” Harvard Medical School Focus on Nutrition web site, March 2013;, last accessed March 25, 2013.