The World's Healthiest Foods

While shrimp may be small, they are huge in their appeal as these deliciously clean and crisp tasting crustaceans can be served hot or cold and are the most popular seafood in the United States, next to canned tuna. Fortunately, we able to enjoy fresh and frozen shrimp throughout the year.

Unlike their close relative, lobsters and crayfish, shrimp are swimmers rather than crawlers. They use the swimmerets on their abdomens to swim forward and their tail to move backward. A wonderfully nutritious alternative to meat proteins, the firm, translucent, flesh of raw shrimp is low in calories and saturated fat.


Health Benefits

Shrimp are anything but small in their nutrient density. Our food ranking system qualified shrimp as an excellent source of selenium and unusually low-fat, low-calorie protein--a four ounce serving of shrimp supplies 23.7 grams of protein (that's 47.4% of the daily value for protein) for a mere 112 calories and less than a gram of fat. Shrimp also emerged as a very good source of vitamin D and vitamin B12.

Shrimp Provide Large Cardiovascular Benefits

Many people are confused about the fat and cholesterol content of shrimp. Shrimp is very low in total fat, yet it has a high cholesterol content (about 200 milligrams in 3.5 ounces, or 12 large boiled shrimp). Some people have avoided eating shrimp precisely because of its high cholesterol content. However, based on research involving shrimp and blood cholesterol levels, avoidance of shrimp for this reason does not seem justified.

In a peer-reviewed scientific study, researchers looked at the effect of two diets, one which contained shrimp and the other eggs, on the cholesterol levels of people with normal lipid levels. In this randomized crossover trial, people ate either 300 grams of shrimp per day or two large eggs. (A randomized crossover trial is one in which groups cross over, trying out both possible protocols.) The shrimp diet did raise LDL levels (bad cholesterol) by 7%, but also raised HDL levels (good cholesterol) by 12%. In contrast, the egg diet raised LDL levels by 10% and HDL by 7%. The results then showed that the shrimp diet produced significantly lower ratios of total to HDL ("good") cholesterol and lower ratios of LDL ("bad" cholesterol) to HDL cholesterol than the egg diet. In addition, in people who ate the shrimp diet, levels of triglycerides (a form in which fat is carried in the blood) decreased 13%.

In just a four-ounce serving of shrimp, you'll receive 28.2% of the daily value for vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is one of the nutrients needed to keep levels of homocysteine, a molecule that can directly damage blood vessel walls and is considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, low. In addition, shrimp are also a good source of cardio-protective omega-3 fatty acids, noted for their anti-inflammatory effects and ability to prevent the formation of blood clots. Four ounces of shrimp provide 14.8% of your daily need for these protective fats.

Cancer-Protection from Selenium

Shrimp are also an excellent source of selenium, providing 64.2% of the daily value for this trace mineral in a 4-ounce serving. Accumulated evidence from prospective studies, intervention trials and studies on animal models of cancer have suggested a strong inverse correlation between selenium intake and cancer incidence. Selenium has been shown to induce DNA repair and synthesis in damaged cells, to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, and to induce their apoptosis, the self-destruct sequence the body uses to eliminate worn out or abnormal cells. In addition, selenium is incorporated at the active site of many proteins, including glutathione peroxidase, which is particularly important for cancer protection. One of the body's most powerful antioxidant enzymes, glutathione peroxidase is used in the liver to detoxify a wide range of potentially harmful molecules. When levels of glutathione peroxidase are too low, these toxic molecules are not disarmed and wreak havoc on any cells with which they come in contact, damaging their cellular DNA and promoting the development of cancer cells.

A Canadian study published in the April 2004 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers suggests that eating fish frequently may provide serious protection against three types of cancer: leukemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Researchers compared the diets of almost 3,000 individuals with these cancers to those of 4,200 healthy controls. People who ate the most fish and who got most of their total fat calories from fish were 28% less likely to have leukemia, 36% less likely to have multiple myeloma, and 29% less likely to have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. (June 30, 2004)


While shrimp may be small, they certainly are anything but shrimpy in their appeal. In fact, these deliciously clean and crisp tasting crustaceans are the most popular seafood in the United States, not counting canned tuna fish.

The firm, translucent flesh of raw shrimp comes in a wide range of colors depending upon the variety. It can be pink, gray, brownish or yellow. Once cooked, the flesh of these crustaceans becomes opaque and cream or pinkish in color.

Over 300 different species of shrimp are harvested worldwide, and within these 300 species, thousands of varieties are available. In the United States, the most commonly available type is the deep-water shrimp, which is also referred to as the pink shrimp. It is three to four inches in length and reddish-pink in color. Giant tiger prawns are also becoming popular in the U.S. These large shrimp, measuring six to twelve inches in length, are one of the most widely consumed types in many regions of Asia.


People have been enjoying shrimp as a food ever since this beautiful crustacean appeared in the Earth’s waters, basically since time immemorial.

Shrimp is found throughout almost the entire world. While many countries farm raise shrimp, much of the world’s supply comes from the United States, South and Central America, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Shrimp:

Shrimp can be cooked either shelled or unshelled depending how you will be using them in a recipe. There are various methods to removing the shell. One way is to first pinch off the head and the legs and then, holding the tail, peel the shell off from the body. If shelling frozen shrimp, do not defrost them completely as they will be easier to shell when they are still slightly frozen.

Some people prefer to remove the shrimp’s intestines before cooking or eating. To do so, make a shallow incision along the back of the shrimp and pull out the dark vein that runs throughout by rinsing under cold water.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Combine chopped shrimp with chopped scallions, tomatoes, diced chili peppers, garlic, lemon juice, and a little olive oil. Season to taste and serve this fragrant shrimp salad on a bed of romaine lettuce.

Serve cold cooked shrimp with salsa dip.

Cut up cooked shrimp and add it to vegetable soups.

Make a quick, easy and healthy version of pasta putanesca. Add cooked shrimp to spicy pasta sauce and serve over whole wheat noodles.


Purines and Shrimp

Shrimp contain purines. Purines are naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as shrimp.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.


Shrimp, MixedSpecies, Steamed, Boiled
4.00 oz-wt
112.27 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
tryptophan 0.33 g 103.1 16.5 excellent
selenium 44.91 mcg 64.2 10.3 excellent
protein 23.71 g 47.4 7.6 excellent
vitamin D 162.39 IU 40.6 6.5 very good
vitamin B12 (cobalamin) 1.69 mcg 28.2 4.5 very good
iron 3.50 mg 19.4 3.1 good
phosphorus 155.36 mg 15.5 2.5 good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.37 g 14.8 2.4 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 2.94 mg 14.7 2.4 good
zinc 1.77 mg 11.8 1.9 good
copper 0.22 mg 11.0 1.8 good
sodium 254.02 mg 10.6 1.7 good
magnesium 38.56 mg 9.6 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%


  • De Oliveira e Silva ER, Seidman CE, Tian JJ, et al. Effects of shrimp consumption on plasma lipoproteins. Am J Clin Nutr 1996 Nov;64(5):712-7.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fritschi L, Ambrosini GL, Kliewer EV, Johnson KC; Canadian Cancer Registries Epidemiologic Research Group. Dietary fish intake and risk of leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Apr;13(4):532-7.
  • Margen S and the Editor, Univ of California at Berkley Wellness Letter. The Wellness Encyclopedia of food and nutrition. New York: Health Letter Associates 1992.
  • Vogt, T. M. Ziegler, R. G. Graubard, B. I et al. Serum selenium and risk of prostate cancer in U.S. blacks and whites. Int J Cancer. 2003 Feb 20; 103(5):664-70.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-20 19:35:40
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation