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Catch of the Day: Think beyond fish

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When it comes to seafood, most people look to fish, such as salmon or tuna, and don't realize the numerous options and benefits offered by other choices, such as mollusks (mussels, clams, and squid), or crustaceans, including crab, shrimp and lobster.

Strong and consistent evidence for the health benefits of eating seafood--including non-fish options--has resulted in the USDA Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association recommending that we eat seafood at least twice a week.

Nutritional bounty from the sea

Crustaceans and mollusks, also referred to as "shellfish," do not have a backbone or internal skeleton. Crustaceans have a segmented body covered by an exoskeleton that consists of a hard upper shell and soft under shell. Mollusks have a soft, unsegmented body, usually enclosed in a hard shell--exceptions include octopus and squid.

Seafood has an abundance of nutrients and health benefits. Crustaceans and mollusks are naturally low in saturated fat and provide high quality protein. The omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)--linked with lowering inflammation and protecting against heart disease, cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases--are found in all seafood to some degree, with substantial amounts found in certain types of oysters and mussels.

Clams, mussels, and oysters also are rich in iron, zinc and selenium. In the past, it was thought that shellfish (particularly shrimp) were high in cholesterol, but new analytical techniques have identified that these sterols have no negative impact on the heart.

Eco impact

Although most seafood contains some amount of mercury, shellfish typically have lower amounts compared to some fish counterparts, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. And many shellfish are top sustainable options, including Alaska and Canadian shrimp, farmed scallops and clams, mussels and oysters.

However, some are not quite so sustainable and should be limited, including American lobster and shrimp from Louisiana or Mexico.

Unfortunately, as a result of contaminated waters, shellfish can be sources of certain foodborne illnesses, such as the Norwalk virus, salmonella, E. coli, and hepatitis A. To lower risk of exposure, avoid consuming raw or undercooked shellfish, buy from a reputable source, refrigerate properly, and comply with local seafood safety advisories.

In the kitchen

As with any food, remember the nutritional profile is impacted by the preparation method. Seafood drenched in salt, butter, and cream will add loads of calories, salt, and artery-clogging saturated fat. Baking, grilling, broiling and steaming are better cooking methods. Season with herbs and spices, and use broths, juice, wine, and salsas instead for sauces and garnishes.



1. Crab: This creature lives in the deepest sea, burrows on land, and climbs trees. Steam and serve with lemon; meat can be used in salads, casseroles or crab cakes.

2. Lobster: Largest of the crustaceans, the meat is found primarily in claws and tail. Cook in boiling water, steam or grill; serve with a flavorful sauce, or use meat in casseroles, salads and soups.

3. Shrimp: Available in a variety of sizes and species, shrimp are found near the seafloor of coasts, estuaries, rivers and lakes. Grill, bake, broil, or steam whole shrimp; peel and devein before eating. Enjoy in shrimp cocktail, and add to casseroles, salads and sauces.


1. Clams: These mollusks comprise numerous varieties and can be found with either a hard or soft shell. Steam or broil and enjoy out of the shell, or in chowders, dips, pasta, or salads.

2. Mussels: These mollusks are two-shelled filter feeders that attach permanently to rocks. Scrub and debeard prior to cooking. Steam in broth or sauce; larger varieties can be stuffed and baked.

3. Octopus: Although a mollusk, the octopus has a soft body surrounding an interior shell that offers structure. Clean and remove beak and eyes before cooking; tentacles and head are typically consumed and can be enjoyed sauteed or grilled as an appetizer or in salads.

4. Oysters: These mollusks can be bought live in the shell, or shucked and then chilled, frozen or canned. Grill, steam, or fill with stuffing and bake on the half-shell.

5. Scallops: Found on the ocean floor, the edible portion of the scallop is the abductor muscle. Typically shucked prior to purchase, they are found fresh, frozen or canned; enjoy broiled, grilled or sauteed with a flavorful sauce.

6. Squid: Similar to the octopus, this mollusk has a soft body which surrounds an interior shell. Clean and remove innards and beak before preparing. Saute, grill, or bake; can also be stuffed




2 tsp olive oil

½ c chopped yellow onion

½ c chopped fennel bulb

1 clove minced garlic

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 15-oz can diced tomatoes

2 Tbsp tomato paste

¼ c dry white wine

½ c low-sodium chicken broth

2 lbs mussels, rinsed and debearded


In large pot, heat oil over medium heat.

Add onions and fennel and cook until softened.

Add garlic, thyme and parsley and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer until liquid thickens; about 10-15 minutes.

Add wine and bring to a boil. Add mussels and cover until mussels open, about 3-4 minutes. Remove mussels that do not open.

Serve mussels in individual bowls with sauce.

Makes 4 servings

Nutrition information per serving: 270 calories, 8 grams (g) fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 680 milligrams sodium, 18 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 29 g protein.

(Recipe courtesy of Kaley Todd, M.S., R.D.N.)

(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384.


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