What Is Shrimp?
If you're a fan of shrimp, you've got plenty of company. The small crustacean has a long body and is typically collected for food. The average American eats about 4 pounds of the stuff every year. That's more than any other seafood.
Ranging in size from small to jumbo, shrimp are typically 1 to 3 inches long. The crustaceans come from warm and cold waters around the world. The pink cold-water ones come cooked and peeled. Warm-water shrimp, in white, brown, or pink, are available cooked or raw.
Around 90% of the shrimp you eat come from a farm. They're raised in ponds on a controlled diet.
Fishermen catch wild shrimp in coastal waters. These shrimp make up about 10% of what we eat in the U.S.
Types of Shrimp
The term "shrimp" includes many species of similar-looking shellfish. Cold-water shrimp are small and harvested in the oceans in the northwest and northeast regions of the U.S. and Canada.
Warm-water shrimp are harvested in tropical areas and are usually farmed. More than 90% of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. are from farms. Most of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported from other countries, such as China, India, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Shrimp are mostly made up of protein and water. On average, 100 grams of cooked shrimp has:
- Calories: 99
- Fat: 0.3 grams
- Carbs: 0.2 grams
- Cholesterol: 189 milligrams
- Sodium: 111 milligrams
- Protein: 24 grams
Other vitamins and minerals include:
Because they're low in carbs and calories and packed with nutrients, shrimp are an ideal choice if you're trying to shed some pounds.
But be careful how you cook it. If you prepare shrimp in a deep fryer or add it to a creamy sauce, you end up tipping the scale in the wrong direction.
The antioxidants in shrimp are good for your health. These substances can protect your cells against damage. Studies suggest that the antioxidant astaxanthin helps prevent wrinkles and lessens sun damage.
Shrimp also has plenty of selenium. Some studies suggest this mineral prevents certain types of cancer, but there's not enough research to know how well it works.
The FDA says pregnant women and young children should avoid raw seafood. Their weaker immune systems put them more at risk for foodborne illnesses.
Raw shrimp can harbor several types of harmful bacteria that can cause illness in humans.
Vibriosis. Vibrio (or Vibrio vulnificus) is a marine bacteria found in sea creatures. It makes humans sick with an illness called vibriosis. You can get infected with this germ by eating raw or uncooked seafood. But you can also be infected if a wound comes into contact with raw or undercooked seafood or its juices.
If you come down with a mild case of vibriosis, you will likely get better after about 3 days. But 20% of people with vibrio infections die, sometimes within a few days of getting sick.
Symptoms of this infection include:
- Watery diarrhea, often along with stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, and fever
- Fever, chills, low blood pressure, and blistering skin lesions – signs of bloodstream infection
- Fever, redness, swelling, discharge, discoloration, and pain. These are symptoms of wound infection and may spread to the rest of the body.
Researchers tested shrimp bought from a fish market and found that seven out of 20 (or 35%) of them had vibrio bacteria. And 100 strains of vibrio — many resistant to antibiotics — have been found in farmed shrimp.
Cholera is an infection of the intestines that causes diarrhea. You can get it by drinking water or eating food that’s contaminated with cholera bacteria. It’s also occasionally spread when raw or undercooked shellfish are eaten.
The Vibrio cholerae bacteria that cause cholera attach themselves to the shells of shrimp, crabs, and other shellfish. Cholera is rare in the U.S., but it’s a major infection in many parts of the world.
In a study of a major shrimp-producing area in Thailand, researchers found Vibrio cholerae non-O1 in 33% of the samples tested. This germ has been associated with cases of gastroenteritis , or “stomach flu.”
Parasites. Shrimp, like all living creatures, can have parasites. These germs that depend on a host for nourishment may lurk in seafood that is eaten raw or is lightly preserved, such as sashimi, sushi, and ceviche. This is why restaurants use commercially frozen seafood to prepare sashimi and sushi.
Here are FDA guidelines on how cold seafood that’s sold for raw consumption should be and for how long it should be stored:
- -4 F (-20 C) or below for 7 days
- -31 F (-35 C) or below until solid, and stored at -31 F (-35 C) for 15 hours
- -31 F (-35 C) or below until solid, and stored at -4 F (-20 C) for 24 hours
If you do eat raw shrimp, be sure to purchase it from restaurants and markets with a good reputation for cleanliness and safety. For the most part, though, organizations concerned with food safety recommend that you cook your seafood. Most seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F (63 C).
Raw seafood that has spoiled can have odors that are sour, rancid, or ammonia-like. Cooking makes these smells stronger. Don’t eat raw or cooked seafood that has these odors.
Risks of Eating Shrimp
Shellfish, including shrimp, is also the cause of a common and sometimes severe food allergy. More than half the people who are allergic to shellfish have their first reaction as an adult.
Avoid shrimp that has an unusual smell to it, especially if it smells like ammonia, which is a sign of bacterial growth.
High mercury levels are a concern, especially for pregnant people. But shrimp tend to have low levels of mercury and are typically safe to eat during pregnancy.
Is shrimp high in cholesterol?
One potential concern is the high amount of cholesterol in shrimp. Experts once held that eating too many foods high in cholesterol was bad for the heart. But modern research shows it's the saturated fat in your diet that raises cholesterol levels in your body, not necessarily the amount of cholesterol in your food. Still, if you're wary of the stuff, moderation is key.
Shrimp and foodborne illness
As mentioned above, raw shrimp can lead to several foodborne illnesses, which is why it's important to buy and eat shrimp from trusted sources.
How to Prepare Shrimp
Shrimp is a versatile food that you can cook in several ways. Healthier methods include:
Unless you live near the coast, shrimp at your local grocery likely aren't fresh. They'll be frozen or previously frozen and thawed. Some food experts will tell you it's OK to buy thawed shrimp if you plan on cooking them right away. Just don't refreeze them. Others argue that thawed shrimp may have been frozen and thawed more than once, which affects both texture and flavor.
When you see a product labeled “fresh frozen,” it means that the seafood was frozen when it was fresh, often within a few hours of harvest. Frozen seafood can be better in quality compared to fresh seafood. But don’t buy frozen shrimp if the package shows signs of ice crystals or frost.
Methods vary, but to prepare your shrimp, first soak them in cold water before you clean them. Some cooks use salt water. To remove the shell, pull the legs off first and use your thumbs to separate the shell from the body. You can pull the head away as the shell comes off.
You can remove the tail next, but that's optional. Also up to you is "deveining" the shrimp. The "vein" is the black digestive tract that runs along the back. Simply use a paring knife to separate the flesh in a line and dig it out.
When you're done cleaning, rinse the shrimp and pat them dry.
Make sure you cook the shrimp completely. You'll know it's ready when they curl up – almost in the shape of the letter "C" – and the gray turns pink.