Few flavors rival that of a grilled shrimp skewer, marinated and hot off the grill. Luckily, the benefits keep coming: Shrimp are low in calories, high in protein, and jam-packed with nutrients that your body needs to keep running at its best. So grab another skewer and let’s talk the health benefits of shrimp.

Low calorie, high protein

In the world of seafood, shrimp are relatively tiny, but their bodies pack a real punch. Most of the calories in shrimp come from protein, making them a healthy, filling meal any time of the day. All that protein means you’re more likely to feel full later on in the day, too, helping cut down on midnight snacking.

Fats, including a generous portion of anti-inflammatory omega-3s, round out the rest of shrimp’s calories. But don’t put that shrimp scampi down yet. The scientific consensus that fats, and saturated fats in particular, are universally bad for you has been coming apart in recent years. Some polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3s, are also vital. Fats actually play an important role in our bodies, meaning we should be looking for ways to include them in our diets.

While fish such as salmon and sardines are some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, shellfish like shrimp contain these healthy fats, too. One three ounce serving of Oregon Pink Shrimp, for example, has nearly 400 milligrams of omega-3s. While our bodies can produce small quantities of omega-3s on their own, we need to include them in our diets to get enough to be healthy.

Getting lots of omega-3s in your food brings a wide range of benefits for our bodies. They help protect both hearts and eyes, and are linked to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s as well as better cognitive health (Thomas et al., 2015). Studies also show omega-3s contribute to healthier aging overall, something researchers link to their effects on inflammation and heart health (Danaei et al., 2009).

A great source of iodine

3D illustration of the molecules of thyroid hormones T3 and T4
The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the throat, depends upon a regular supply of iodine in the diet. Iodine allows it to create optimal amounts of T3 and T4 hormones, which in turn support metabolism and overall health.

Iodine is important for proper thyroid function and brain health (Chung, 2014). It’s a key ingredient in the hormones your thyroid makes — triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) — and it’s especially important for pregnant women, infants and young children. Without it, thyroid hormone deficiencies can lead to brain damage. In adults, a lack of iodine can cause hypothyroidism and enlargement of the thyroid gland, a condition also known as goiter.

(Read more: Iodine, Forgotten Nutrient of the Sea)

High selenium, low mercury

Selenium is an important mineral in the diet, and shrimp and other seafood are some of the best sources out there. Selenium is important for the metabolism of thyroid hormones and proper immune function. Additionally, the mineral may even slow aging. Researchers have long suspected selenium may also play a role in cardiovascular health, although the results of controlled studies have been mostly inconclusive (Benstoem et al., 2015).

One serendipitous benefit of selenium for fish and shellfish lovers is its interactions with mercury. Shrimp is already low in mercury — less than half that of many fish. But as a bonus, selenium “competes” for the same receptors to which mercury bonds in the body. Result: less mercury in tissues (Gochfeld & Burger, 2021).

Amazing astaxanthin

3D illustration of the molecules of thyroid hormones T3 and T4
The characteristic red color of shrimp, which intensifies in cooking, is due to astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant with benefits for brain, heart and skin.

Shrimp, like salmon, are also good sources of the antioxidant astaxanthin. It’s a key component in algae, a favorite shrimp food. And it’s what gives both sea creatures their characteristic red pigmentation. But the compound has powerful effects inside our bodies, too (don’t worry, you won’t turn red).

Like other antioxidants, astaxanthin works to absorb rogue atoms called free radicals that can react with and damage our bodies’ cells (Grimming et al., 2017). Several studies suggest it might help protect against neurodegeneration (Wu et al., 2015), while others indicate it lowers the odds of cardiovascular disease by strengthening arteries (Fassett & Coombes, 2011). Studies also suggest astaxanthin is great for skin health, reducing wrinkles, age spots and crow’s feet, as well as helping retain moisture (Tominaga et al., 2012).

Healthy cholesterol

Shrimp contains dietary cholesterol, which for a long time was thought to be harmful for cardiovascular health. But increasing evidence suggests that eating cholesterol-containing foods isn’t necessarily what raises cholesterol levels in your body (Solimon, 2018). In fact, shrimp, as well as eggs, are the two foods famously high in cholesterol, but considered healthy choices due to the array of essential nutrients they provide.

(Read more: Cholesterol-rich Foods Can Be Good For Your Heart)

More reasons to love shrimp

If we haven’t convinced you that shrimp are healthy yet, don’t forget they’re filled with a range of other nutrients as well. Shrimp also contain vitamin B12, as well as phosphorus, choline, copper, iodine, zinc, magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese.

So next time you’re throwing a cocktail party, cookout, or just serving dinner at home, don’t forget the shrimp! It’s a small package with outsized benefits.

 

Sources:

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  • Chung HR. (2014) Iodine and thyroid function. Ann Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 19(1):8-12. doi:10.6065/apem.2014.19.1.8
  • Benstoem C, Goetzenich A, Kraemer S, et al. (2015). Selenium and its supplementation in cardiovascular disease--what do we know?. Nutrients. 7(5):3094–3118. doi:10.3390/nu7053094
  • Gochfeld M & Burger J. (2021) Mercury interactions with selenium and sulfur and the relevance of the Se:Hg molar ratio to fish consumption advice. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 28:18407–18420. doi:10.1007/s11356-021-12361-7
  • Grimmig B, Kim SH, Nash K, et al. (2017) Neuroprotective mechanisms of astaxanthin: a potential therapeutic role in preserving cognitive function in age and neurodegeneration. Geroscience. 39(1):19-32. doi:10.1007/s11357-017-9958-x
  • Wu H, Niu H, Shao A, et al. (2015) Astaxanthin as a Potential Neuroprotective Agent for Neurological Diseases. Mar Drugs. 13(9):5750-5766. doi:10.3390/md13095750
  • Fassett RG, Coombes JS. (2011) Astaxanthin: a potential therapeutic agent in cardiovascular disease. Mar Drugs. 9(3):447-465. doi:10.3390/md9030447
  • Thomas, J., Thomas, C. J., Radcliffe, J., & Itsiopoulos, C. (2015). Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Early Prevention of Inflammatory Neurodegenerative Disease: A Focus on Alzheimer’s Disease. BioMed Research International, 2015, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/172801
  • ‌Tominaga K, Hongo N, Karato M, Yamashita E. (2012) Cosmetic benefits of astaxanthin on humans subjects. Acta Biochim Pol. 59(1):43-7. http://www.actabp.pl/pdf/1_2012/43.pdf
  • Soliman GA. (2018) Dietary Cholesterol and the Lack of Evidence in Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients. 10(6):780. doi:10.3390/nu10060780