Shellfish is a group of seafood which consist of a hinged two part shell. Mussels, clams, oysters and scallops as well as some snails, squid and octopi belong to this category of seafood.  Sustainable shellfish is a fantastic addition to a healthy diet as it is high in lean protein, a source of healthy fats and is high in essential vitamins and minerals.  Shellfish is a source of polyunsaturated fats in the form of Omega 3’s which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease through decreasing triglyceride levels, reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and reducing chronic inflammation. It is recommended that we have two servings of fish per week in order to meet our needs for Omega 3’s.
Shellfish is also a source of key nutrients including iron, zinc, copper, selenium, and B12, etc., all of which are required for the functioning of the systems of the body. For example, oysters are a source of zinc which plays a role in the immune system as well as in the promotion of healthy hair, skin and nails. Oysters are also an excellent source of selenium, a powerful antioxidant with a vital role in a healthy immune system as well as thyroid function.
Mussels are an excellent source of manganese, a mineral required to help us breakdown and use carbohydrates and fats and it also plays a role in bone and teeth strength and maintenance.
All shellfish is a significant source of Vitamin B12. In fact, shellfish has more B12 than all other seafood. B12 is incredibly important for the production of healthy red blood cells and it aids in the function of the nervous system.
Unlike large, predatory fish, shellfish is not typically a concern in terms of mercury intake. However, it is one of the top 10 priority allergens in Canada and shellfish allergies are generally a life-long condition. Those who have a shellfish allergy should avoid all shellfish and avoid restaurants where cross-contamination may be of concern.
In terms of foodborne illnesses, as long as raw shellfish is stored and handled properly, there is little risk for contamination with bacteria, viruses or toxins. However, as those who are seniors, pregnant or ill have weakened or vulnerable immune systems, they may be more susceptible to the risks of illness from raw shellfish and may want to ensure it is cooked properly in order to reduce such risks. In order to ensure accurate cooking, boil shellfish for 3-5 minutes after the shells open or steam the shellfish for 4-9 minutes in a pot of steaming water. You may also boil, fry or simmer shucked oysters and clams for about 3 minutes in order to kill potentially harmful bacteria.
As shellfish is an incredibly healthy and delicious addition to the diet, try various shellfish options in many different ways and in a variety of recipes in order to help meet nutrient needs. To find out more about how you can add shellfish into your healthy diet, contact me at
Eat Well, Halifax
Nicole Marchand, RD

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