Seafood Nutrition Overview

Although no single food alone can make a person healthy, good eating habits based on moderation and variety can help to maintain and even improve health. Because of the nutrients found in seafood, current dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend that Americans increase their seafood intake to twice a week.

Calories

Seafood is considered to be a low calorie food when compared to other protein-rich foods such as meat and poultry. Most lean or lower fat species of fish, such as cod, flounder, and sole, contain 100 calories or less per 3 ounce cooked portion, and even the fattier fish like mackerel, herring, and salmon contain approximately 200 calories or less in a 3 ounce cooked serving. With seafood, you can consume fewer calories to meet your daily protein needs. This is one reason why seafood is a good choice for diets designed to help you lose or maintain an ideal weight.

Protein

Seafood contains a high-quality protein that includes all of the essential amino acids for human health, making it a complete protein source. A 3 ounce cooked serving of most fish or shellfish provides about one-third of the average daily recommended amount of protein. The protein in seafood is also easier to digest because it has less connective tissue than red meats and poultry. This is one reason why fish muscle is so fragile, and why it flakes when cooked and can be eaten without further cutting or slicing. For certain groups of people such as the elderly who may have difficulty chewing or digesting their food, seafood can be a good choice to help them obtain their daily protein needs.

Fat

Seafood is considered to be low in both total fat and saturated fat. Current dietary recommendations suggest that we reduce our total fat intake to less than 30 percent of the calories that we eat, and that we limit our intake of saturated fat. Lean fish have significantly less fat than other protein-rich foods, and most kinds of fish and shellfish contain less than 5 percent total fat. Even the fattiest fish have a fat content similar to lean meats, and contain less fat than most ground beef, some processed meats, and the fattiest (skin and dark meat) portions of some poultry products. Higher fat fish such as mackerel, herring and King salmon have about 15% total fat.

To get a general idea of the fat content of most fish species, look at the color of the flesh. The leanest species such as cod and flounder have a white or lighter color, and fattier fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel usually have a much darker color. The fat content of fish and shellfish can vary depending on when and where they are caught and other factors. To assist you in comparing common seafood choices the following table groups a variety of fish and shellfish according to their average amount of total fat and percent calories from fat.

Fat Content in a 3 ounce cooked Serving of Common Types of Fish and Shellfish
High Fat (10 grams or more) Herring, Mackerel, Sardines, Salmon (Atlantic, Coho, Sockeye and Chinook)
Medium Fat (5 to 10 grams) Bluefish, Catfish, Rainbow trout, Swordfish
Low Fat (2 to 5 grams) Tilapia, Halibut, Mussels, Ocean perch, Oysters, Pacific rockfish, Salmon (Chum, Pink)
Very Low Fat (less than 2 grams) Crab, Clams, Cod, Flounder/sole, Haddock, Hake, Lobster, Mahi-mahi, Pollock, Scallops, Shrimp, Tuna

When evaluating a food, it’s important to consider both the total amount of fat and the kind of fat that it contains. The two major kinds of fat are the saturated fats (usually solid at room temperature like butter or lard) and unsaturated fats (usually liquid at room temperature like vegetable oils). Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are two types of unsaturated fat. Current dietary recommendations suggest that we decrease the amount of saturated fat and increase the proportion of unsaturated fat in our diet. A large proportion of the fat in seafood is unsaturated, and seafood contains a unique kind of polyunsaturated fat, called omega-3 fatty acids, which can provide additional health benefits. Because of the amount and kind of fat in seafood it can be a good choice to help you follow current dietary recommendations.

Cholesterol

Most animal foods including seafood contain some cholesterol. Current dietary recommendations suggest that we reduce our cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day. Almost all types of fish and shellfish contain well under 100 milligrams of cholesterol per 3 ounce cooked serving, and many of the leaner types of fish have less than 60 milligrams. Most shellfish contain less than 100 milligrams of cholesterol per 3 ounce cooked serving. Shrimp contain somewhat higher amounts of cholesterol, with 170 milligrams per 3 ounce cooked serving, and squid is the only seafood that has a significantly elevated cholesterol content which averages almost 400 milligrams per 3 ounce cooked portion. Fish roe, caviar, the internal organs of fish (such as livers), the tomalley of lobsters, and the mustard of crabs can contain high amounts of cholesterol.

Sodium

Current dietary recommendations suggest that we use salt and sodium only in moderation because for some people reducing their sodium intake can decrease risks associated with high blood pressure. The current recommended limit for daily sodium intake is less than 2,300 milligrams for the general adult population and higher risk groups would benefit by further reducing their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day. Fish are naturally low in sodium and even those species with the highest sodium levels contain less than 100 milligrams per 3 ounce cooked portion. Most shellfish generally have more sodium, ranging from 100 to 500 milligrams per 3 ounce cooked serving. Some processed or frozen seafood products may contain significantly higher sodium levels. Products that are brine frozen such as crab legs may contain as much as 800 to 1000 milligrams of sodium per serving, and other products such as surimi or imitation shellfish products, smoked fish, and some canned products that have salt added during processing may also contain higher amounts of sodium. It’s a good idea to carefully read ingredient or nutritional labels for processed products to determine their sodium content.

Vitamins and Minerals

Seafood is generally considered to be a reasonable but not a particularly rich source of vitamins. Fish have levels of B vitamins that are similar to many other protein-rich foods. Fattier fish like mackerel and herring can be a good source of Vitamin D and Vitamin A. Most types of seafood are a reasonable source of minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, and selenium. Canned fish such as salmon and sardines that contain bones which are softened during the canning process can be a good source of calcium, but most fish flesh doesn’t provide a significant amount of calcium. Some shellfish, such as clams and oysters, are a good source of iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, iodine, and other trace minerals. Most fish contain moderate to small amounts of these minerals.

Fish and Shellfish Nutrient Composition Chart

This chart provides the nutrient composition for a 3 ounce cooked portion of the 20 most frequently consumed seafood products identified by the FDA.

Fat and Fatty Acids

Breading and frying is a popular way of preparing seafood products, but the oil can be absorbed into the raw product causing an increase in total fat and calories. The chart below shows how breading and frying seafood can double the calories in a 3-ounce serving. Frying or deep-frying does not just increase total fat; it can change the amount of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids in each serving. Health organizations suggest eating seafood twice per week to get an average daily intake of 250 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Frying can cause these beneficial omega-3 fatty acids to dissolve in the cooking oil. It can even change the amount of each omega-3 fatty acid present, creating a less healthy ratio. Instead of serving seafood fried, there are preparation methods that can maintain its healthy benefits, including: poaching, steaming, baking, broiling, stir-frying and microwaving. 

Healthy Seafood Preparation

Nutrient Healthy Preparation Use in Limited Amounts
Fat & Fatty Acids Grilling, poaching, steaming, baking, broiling, and stir-frying Breaded and fried/deep fried
Cholesterol Use sauces that are wine or vegetable-based Sauces using eggs or dairy
Sodium Use lemon and other herbs, such as dill, fennel, cilantro for fish fillets; and basil, chives, oregano, thyme, and rosemary for shellfish Marinades or large amounts of smoked fish

Seafood Nutrient Table

The table below contains nutrient information for popular raw, cooked and processed seafood products, including total fat, sodium, and fatty acid content. All values are presented in 3-ounce portions, but keep in mind that serving sizes can range from 3 to 8-ounces depending on the recipe and individual preferences. A 3-ounce serving of fish is the size of a deck of cards. Nutrient information for other seafood products can be found at this USDA website.

Salmon Nutrient Content

Seafood
(3 ounces)
Calories
(kcal)
Total Fat
(g)
Saturated Fat
(g)
Omega-3’s, 
EPA+DHA
(mg)
Sodium
(mg)
Cholesterol
(mg)
Raw Atlantic Salmon 177 11.41 2.59 1671 50 47
Baked Atlantic Salmon 175 10.50 2.12 1825 52 54
Raw Chinook Salmon 152 8.87 2.63 1659 40 42
Smoked Chinook Salmon 99 3.67 0.79 383 666 20
Kippered Chinook Salmon 178 11.01 2.07 1062 740 57
Raw Sockeye Salmon 144 5.69 0.77 673 114 54
Canned Sockeye Salmon 141 6.21 1.33 1228 306 37
Smoked Sockeye Salmon 175 6.17 1.25 1335 510 79
Salmon Nuggets or Burger 180 9.96 1.33 422 147 22

Catfish Nutrient Content

Seafood
(3 ounces)
Calories
(kcal)
Total Fat
(g)
Saturated Fat
(g)
Omega-3’s, 
EPA+DHA
(mg)
Sodium
(mg)
Cholesterol
(mg)
Raw Catfish 101 5.05 1.11 62 83 47
Baked Catfish 122 6.11 1.34 76 101 56
Battered and Fried Catfish 195 11.33 2.79 290 238 60

Clam and Oyster Nutrient Content

Seafood
(3 ounces)
Calories
(kcal)
Total Fat
(g)
Saturated Fat
(g)
Omega-3’s, 
EPA+DHA
(mg)
Sodium
(mg)
Cholesterol
(mg)
Raw Oysters 50 1.32 0.37 333 151 21
Baked/Grilled Oysters 67 1.80 0.58 384 139 32
Battered and Fried Oysters 169 10.69 2.71 357 354 60
Raw Clams 73 0.82 0.15 91 511 26
Canned Clams 121 1.35 0.26 150 95 42
Battered and Fried Clams 333 19.52 4.88 N/A 616 65
Clam chowder (1 cup) 154 5.09 2.75 26 688 18

Shrimp Nutrient Content

Seafood
(3 ounces)
Calories
(kcal)
Total Fat
(g)
Saturated Fat
(g)
Omega-3’s, 
EPA+DHA
(mg)
Sodium
(mg)
Cholesterol
(mg)
Raw Shrimp 60 0.86 0.09 51 481 107
Steamed Shrimp 101 1.45 0.16 87 805 179
Battered and Fried Shrimp 206 10.44 1.7 198 292 117

Pollock Nutrient Content

Seafood
(3 ounces)
Calories
(kcal)
Total Fat
(g)
Saturated Fat
(g)
Omega-3’s, 
EPA+DHA
(mg)
Sodium
(mg)
Cholesterol
(mg)
Raw Alaskan Pollock 78 0.83 0.11 357 73 60
Battered and Fried Fish Fillet 197 10.45 2.39 N/A 452 29
Battered and Fried Fish Sticks 212 11.26 2.33 343 358 24
Fish sandwich 243 13.29 3.781 N/A 436 68

Tuna Nutrient Content

Seafood
(3 ounces)
Calories
(kcal)
Total Fat
(g)
Saturated Fat
(g)
Omega-3’s, 
EPA+DHA
(mg)
Sodium
(mg)
Cholesterol
(mg)
Raw Skipjack 88 0.86 0.27 217 31 40
Canned Light Tuna (oil) 168 6.98 1.3 109 301 15
Canned Light Tuna (water) 99 0.70 0.19 230 287 26
Canned White Tuna (oil) 158 6.87 1.08 207 337 26
Canned White Tuna (water) 109 2.52 0.67 733 320 36
Tuna salad 159 7.87 1.3 59 342 11

Crab Nutrient Content

Seafood
(3 ounces)
Calories
(kcal)
Total Fat
(g)
Saturated Fat
(g)
Omega-3’s, 
EPA+DHA
(mg)
Sodium
(mg)
Cholesterol
(mg)
Raw Blue Crab 74 0.92 0.18 273 249 66
Canned Blue Crab 71 0.63 0.17 143 336 82
Blue Crab cakes 132 6.39 1.26 377 280 128
Raw Alaskan King Crab 71 0.51 0.07 N/A 711 36
Steamed Alaskan King Crab 82 1.31 0.11 351 911 45
Imitation Alaskan King Crab, surimi 81 0.39 0.15 N/A 715 17

Herring Nutrient Content

Seafood
(3 ounces)
Calories
(kcal)
Total Fat
(g)
Saturated Fat
(g)
Omega-3’s, 
EPA+DHA
(mg)
Sodium
(mg)
Cholesterol
(mg)
Raw Herring 134 7.68 1.73 1336 76 51
Broiled or Baked Herring 173 9.85 2.22 1712 98 65
Pickled herring 223 15.31 2.02 1181 740 11

*All values obtained from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

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