“Sea Food” and Eat Up

by Charles Platkin, PhD

You might think all clam chowders are equal, but the Manhattan version is tomato-based, whereas the New England kind is made with milk or cream, which makes it much more fattening. But when it comes to calories, lobster bisque, which is made with heavy cream, is the highest of all. Bisque, after all, means thick and creamy, so what would you expect?

  • Manhattan clam chowder (2 cups): 256 calories, 8g fat, 32g carbs, 14g protein
  • New England clam chowder (2 cups): 543 calories, 40g fat, 29g carbs, 16g protein
  • Lobster bisque (2 cups): 710 calories, 58g fat, 32g carbs, 16g protein

Both are good options and probably among your best choices. Although shrimp is high in cholesterol, it’s very low in the unhealthy saturated fat, so it can still fit into a heart-healthy diet. Not only are the shrimp and oysters low in calories, but the cocktail sauce and that vinegary sauce the oysters come with certainly beat the butter that comes with lobster. However, raw oysters (and raw clams, too) are at high risk for contamination by microorganisms, so pregnant women and those with suppressed immune systems should proceed with caution.

  • Six large shrimp: 251 calories, 3g fat, 2g carbs, 54g protein
  • Six medium oysters: 240 calories, 6g fat, 15g carbs, 27g protein

Yes, shrimp can be a low-calorie alternative, but not when made with scampi sauce. “Scampi” usually describes large shrimp that are split, often brushed with oil or butter and broiled or sauteed with wine or sherry and lemon juice. Stick with the shrimp without the butter and pasta. The broiled halibut is really the winner here, but then, almost any broiled fish, including cod, sole, flounder and salmon, will be a winner. Also, be careful of side dishes (fries, a baked potato with sour cream and butter, a side salad with fatty dressing) that can pack on calories even when you’ve ordered a healthy, low-cal main course.

  • Shrimp scampi with pasta (eight large shrimp): 830 calories, 26g fat, 75g carbs, 74g protein
  • Broiled halibut (8 ounces): 317 calories, 7g fat, 0g carbs, 60g protein

If you order crabs, you’re typically getting about five or six large crab legs on your plate, which is about 650 calories’ worth of crab meat. Not only that, but many restaurants have all-you-can-eat crab dinners that eliminate any kind of portion control. And don’t forget that the Dijon mustard sauce (often made with mayonnaise) and other buttery dips can add on loads more calories.

Although salmon is relatively high in fat, it’s heart-healthy, “good” fat, and even a large portion of grilled salmon is lower in calories than the crab. Remember to tell your server that you want your fish grilled dry, NOT in oil. Just because the menu says “grilled” doesn’t mean they don’t use butter, oil or both — how do you think the salmon makes it off the grill without sticking? Perhaps they can use a cooking spray if you request it.

  • Five crab legs: 650 calories, 10g fat, 0g carbs, 129g protein
  • Grilled salmon (8 ounces): 466 calories, 27g fat, 0g carbs, 50g protein

It’s about choosing the lesser of three evils, but the lobster roll is best. As far as fried clams go, I know people who eat 20 or more at a sitting with a very high-calorie chipotle mayonnaise sauce. They end up breaking the 1,000-calorie barrier. And popcorn shrimp is also a deep-fried diet disaster.

  • Fried clams (10 large): 438 calories, 23g fat, 27g carbs, 28.5g protein
  • Lobster roll: 547 calories, 35g fat, 31g carbs, 27g protein
  • Popcorn shrimp (includes chips and slaw): 741 calories, 25g fat, 96g carbs, 33g protein

Knowing that catfish has a reputation for being high in fat, I was surprised to see that tuna and catfish are very close in calories — assuming the catfish is broiled or blackened rather than fried. The tuna actually contains about 20 more grams of protein than the catfish, but even though the catfish has more fat, it’s the healthy, unsaturated kind. And keep in mind that tuna can be high in mercury, which means that women who are pregnant or attempting to have children should avoid tuna steaks and go for the catfish, which tends to be very low in mercury.

  • Fried catfish (8 ounces): 520 calories, 30g fat, 18g carbs, 41g protein
  • Blackened catfish (8 ounces): 345 calories, 18g fat, 0g carbs, 42g protein
  • Broiled tuna (8 ounces): 350 calories, 9g fat, 1g carbs, 62g protein

Tartar sauce is made with mayonnaise — do I have to say any more? Cocktail sauce is the clear winner. Keep your condiments in check; be wary of sauces made with butter or mayo; and try using lemon or malt vinegar instead.

  • Tartar sauce (1 tablespoon): 74 calories, 7.5g fat, 2g carbs, 0.2g protein
  • Cocktail sauce (1 tablespoon): 15 calories, 0.1g fat, 4g carbs, 0.2g protein
  • Butter (1 tablespoon): 102 calories, 11.5g fat, 0g carbs, 0.1g protein

Fatty fish like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon are high in two kinds of Omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, many fish, “specifically large, ocean-dwelling fish like shark, swordfish, tuna, king mackerel and tilefish, are likely to have high quantities of toxic methylmercury,” says Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or nursing — and young children — should not eat these fish. However, she adds, “Fish is still a great choice. There are many types that don’t pose problems with mercury (e.g., salmon and catfish), and the benefits of Omega-3s are pretty strong.”

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