Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Are Prawns Bad For You?

Also Known As: Shrimp, Caridean shrimp



Short answer

Prawns can be healthy and nutritious, offering high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals. They are high in cholesterol, which may not significantly impact blood cholesterol levels for most people, but those with cholesterol concerns should moderate intake. Prawns can contain allergens for some individuals and may carry contaminants like mercury, although they are generally low in it. Sustainably-sourced prawns help reduce environmental impact and avoid ethical issues. Moderation in portion and frequency is key to incorporating prawns into a balanced diet.



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Long answer

Nutritional Profile of Prawns and Cholesterol Content

Prawns are often a topic of discussion when it comes to cholesterol content in seafood. Before delving into how prawns might affect your cholesterol levels, let's first understand their general nutritional profile. Prawns are a type of shellfish that are rich in protein and provide a variety of vitamins and minerals.

A standard serving of prawns (approximately 85 grams or 3 ounces) offers the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 84
  • Protein: 17.8 grams
  • Total Fat: 0.9 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 0.2 grams
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 0.3 grams
  • Cholesterol: 161 milligrams
  • Sodium: 805 milligrams
  • Potassium: 125 milligrams
  • Calcium: 58 milligrams
  • Iron: 2.08 milligrams
  • Magnesium: 28 milligrams
  • Phosphorus: 201 milligrams
  • Zinc: 1.59 milligrams
  • Selenium: 34.6 micrograms
  • Vitamin B12: 1.29 micrograms

The highlight of prawns' nutritional profile is their impressive protein content, which is essential for building and repairing tissues, as well as their selenium and vitamin B12, both critical for maintaining overall health.

Now addressing the cholesterol aspect, prawns do have significant cholesterol levels. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, prawns contain about 161 milligrams of cholesterol per serving, which is over half of the daily recommended limit of 300 milligrams for adults. However, it's essential to put this into context – dietary cholesterol's impact on blood cholesterol levels varies from person to person. While some people might be more susceptible to high-cholesterol foods, others may not see a significant increase in their blood cholesterol levels after consuming such foods.

Research suggests that the cholesterol found in food has a smaller impact on the level of cholesterol in your blood than previously thought. The American Heart Association now emphasizes that heart-unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats, play a more critical role in raising blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol itself. Thus, the focus should be more on the type of fats consumed rather than on cholesterol alone.

However, for individuals with high cholesterol levels or those who have been advised by a healthcare provider to monitor their cholesterol intake, consuming prawns may need to be moderated. It’s advisable to consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider to determine an appropriate amount that fits within one's specific dietary needs.

In summary, while prawns are a cholesterol-rich food, they also provide a balanced mix of nutrients and may have a different impact on blood cholesterol levels depending on individual health factors and existing dietary habits. Considering the entire dietary pattern is crucial when evaluating the health implications of including prawns in your diet.

Allergenic Potential of Prawns and Shellfish

Consuming prawns can pose a significant risk for individuals with a shellfish allergy, one of the most common food allergies globally. An allergic reaction to shellfish can range from mild symptoms such as hives or a stuffy nose, to severe responses like anaphylaxis—a potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. It's important to recognize these risks and know how to identify and manage a shellfish allergy.

Identifying a Shellfish Allergy:

  • Immediate Symptoms: Allergic reactions typically occur within minutes to an hour after eating shellfish and can include itching, hives, eczema, wheezing, nasal congestion, trouble breathing, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, or fainting.
  • Anaphylaxis: In severe cases, anaphylaxis may occur, presenting as a rapid, strong pulse, a dramatic drop in blood pressure, constriction of airways, and swelling of the throat, which could impede breathing.
  • Testing: If a shellfish allergy is suspected, it should be confirmed with an allergist through skin-prick tests or blood tests that measure the presence of shellfish-specific IgE antibodies.

Prevalence of Shellfish Allergies:

Shellfish allergies affect both adults and children, and unlike many food allergies, they often develop in adulthood and are less likely to be outgrown. A survey estimates that roughly 2% of the American population reports a shellfish allergy, according to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Cross-Reactivity Among Shellfish:

Shellfish are categorized into two groups: crustaceans (like prawns, shrimp, crab, and lobster) and mollusks (such as clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops). Allergies to crustaceans tend to be more common and more severe. If someone is allergic to one type of shellfish, there is a potential for cross-reactivity with others, meaning an allergic reaction could be triggered by different shellfish species. Medical experts usually recommend complete avoidance of all shellfish if you're allergic to one.

Hidden Sources of Shellfish Allergens:

  • Cross-Contamination: This can occur in kitchens and restaurants where shellfish and other foods are prepared using the same equipment or surfaces.
  • Food Additives: Glucosamine, a dietary supplement often used for arthritis, is frequently made from the shells of shellfish and can be a hidden source of allergens.
  • Seafood Flavorings: Some processed foods use seafood flavorings that may contain shellfish proteins.

It is crucial for individuals with shellfish allergies to be vigilant about reading labels and inquiring about ingredients when dining out. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes shellfish in their list of major food allergens, which must be declared on the labeling of all packaged foods sold. Additionally, vigilance in non-food items, such as pet food, where shellfish-derived substances may be present, is also necessary for those with severe allergies.

Preparation and cooking methods, such as steaming or frying, do not eliminate the allergenic proteins in shellfish; thus, allergic reactions can still occur with cooked prawns and other shellfish. For those without an allergy, prawns can be a healthy addition to a diet, but it's essential for allergy sufferers to avoid them altogether.

Prawns and the Risk of Mercury and Other Contaminants

When it comes to seafood, a common concern is the risk of exposure to contaminants including mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and microplastics. Prawns, as with other crustaceans and seafood options, are susceptible to such contamination depending on their habitat and the conditions in which they are farmed or caught.

Mercury is a heavy metal that can accumulate in the body over time and has been associated with neurological impairment, especially in developing fetuses and young children. The primary source of mercury in humans is from consuming contaminated fish and shellfish. Fortunately, prawns are typically considered low in mercury content compared to other seafood such as shark, swordfish, or King mackerel. The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide guidelines regarding the consumption of seafood, categorizing prawns as good choices to eat two to three servings a week for most individuals.

However, prawns can still carry other contaminants. Wild prawns may be exposed to pollutants in their natural marine environments, while farmed prawns might come into contact with various substances used in aquaculture. Interestingly, a study in the 'Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry' suggested that farmed prawns could have higher levels of PCBs and dioxins compared to their wild counterparts. These substances, once ingested, can persist in the human body for extended periods and are linked to various health concerns, including reproductive and immune system effects.

Another modern concern is the presence of microplastics, tiny plastic particles that have infiltrated aquatic ecosystems. Seafood consumers can inadvertently consume these microplastics via their diet. Although the full health implications of microplastics are still under investigation, studies indicate they could be carriers for other pollutants, potentially leading to bioaccumulation of harmful substances in marine life and subsequently in the humans who consume them.

To mitigate the risks of contaminants in prawns:

  • Opt for wild-caught prawns from waters known to have lower pollution levels.
  • Choose prawns certified by reputable organizations that indicate sustainable and contaminant-conscious practices.
  • If consuming farmed prawns, look for those from producers who maintain high water quality and do not use excessive antibiotics or chemicals.
  • Consider varying your diet to include a wide range of seafood, which can help minimize the potential buildup of contaminants from any one source.

As a consumer, staying informed about the source and practices behind the seafood we consume, including prawns, is pivotal. By selecting prawns from clean waters and responsible farming practices, the risks of mercury and other contaminants can be significantly reduced, making prawns a safer choice to include in a balanced diet.

Sustainable and Ethical Sourcing of Prawns

Consuming prawns has been associated with numerous health benefits due to their high protein content and rich array of nutrients. Yet, when exploring the implications of prawn consumption, it’s imperative to delve into the sustainability and ethics of their sourcing. The practices employed in harvesting prawns significantly affect both the environment and the quality of the seafood we consume.

Environmental Impact: One of the primary concerns regarding prawn farming is the environmental damage it can cause. Traditional prawn farming may lead to the destruction of vital ecosystems, including mangroves, which serve as crucial buffers against storms and as important nurseries for marine life. Moreover, some farming practices result in high levels of bycatch – the unintentional capture of non-targeted species – and can disrupt marine biodiversity.

Studies, such as one published in the Journal of Environmental Management, have highlighted the negative impacts unsustainable prawn farming can have on local ecosystems and water quality. The accumulation of waste products, the potential use of antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease, and the release of chemicals can all lead to serious environmental degradation.

Human Rights Concerns: Equally important are the ethical dimensions of prawn sourcing. Reports by organizations such as the Environmental Justice Foundation have unearthed human rights abuses in some prawn supply chains. These issues range from poor working conditions to forced labor and child labor, especially in regions with lax regulatory oversight. As conscientious consumers, understanding the provenance of the prawns we eat is essential to ensure we are not inadvertently supporting these malpractices.

Choosing Ethically Sourced Prawns: When selecting prawns, look for certifications that indicate sustainable and ethical harvesting practices. Certifications by agencies like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) or the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) can be reliable indicators of sustainably farmed or wild-caught prawns. These certifications ensure that the prawns come from sources that have minimal impact on the environment and uphold high social standards.

It is also beneficial to purchase prawns from local and smaller-scale fisheries when available. These sources often have a smaller ecological footprint and are more transparent about their fishing practices. Engaging with local fishmongers or markets can provide more information about the sourcing of their seafood and allows for informed purchasing decisions.

Here are some actionable steps for consumers wanting to make ethical prawn choices:

  • Look for labels and certifications indicating sustainable practices (ASC, MSC).
  • Research brands and their commitment to ethical sourcing.
  • Support small-scale producers or fisheries when possible.
  • Be wary of prawns with extremely low prices, as this may indicate cost-cutting at the expense of the environment or human rights.
  • Consult seafood sustainability guides or databases for specific regions.

To conclude this section, while prawns themselves are a nutritious addition to many diets, the methods by which they are sourced hold equal weight in assessing their overall impact on health and society. Ethical and sustainable sourcing practices ensure not only the minimization of environmental damage but also the support of fair labor practices. As informed consumers, our choices can drive the demand for responsibly harvested prawns, contributing to the health of both our bodies and the planet.

Balancing Prawns in a Healthy Diet: Portion and Frequency

Integrating prawns into a healthy diet requires attention to both portion size and frequency of consumption. Prawns can be a nutritious addition to your meals, offering high-quality protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals essential for health. However, like any food, they should be consumed in moderation to maintain nutritional balance and avoid potential negative effects.

Understanding Portion Size

The recommended portion size for prawns (or any other seafood) can vary based on dietary guidelines and individual nutritional needs. A general guideline is to consume approximately 85 to 100 grams (3 to 3.5 ounces) of prawns per serving. This amount ensures you reap the benefits of the nutrients found in prawns without overindulging.

  • Protein Content: At this serving size, prawns provide a substantial amount of your daily protein requirement, approximately 20 to 25 grams, depending on the size of the prawns.
  • Cholesterol Consideration: Prawns are higher in dietary cholesterol compared to some other seafood, so keeping an eye on portion size can help manage cholesterol intake.
  • Caloric Intake: Prawns are low in calories, with about 100 to 120 calories per serving, making them a great option for weight management when eaten in appropriate portions.

Frequency of Consumption

How often prawns can be included in your diet also matters. As part of a balanced diet, including a variety of protein sources is important. Consuming prawns 1 to 2 times per week allows you to benefit from their nutritional value while minimizing potential risks such as exposure to toxins or pollutants.

  • Mercury Levels: Prawns generally have lower mercury levels compared to some other seafood, but maintaining variety in your seafood intake can help prevent the accumulation of mercury and other contaminants.
  • Seafood Allergies: For those with shellfish allergies, it is crucial to avoid prawns altogether, as they can trigger severe allergic reactions.
  • Environmental Impact: Opting for sustainably sourced prawns and considering the ecological ramifications of prawn farming and wild capture can also influence consumption choices.

Nutritional Diversity

While prawns can be a nutritious part of a diet, they should be paired with an array of other foods rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This strategy ensures that you're not relying solely on prawns for specific nutrients and provides a more holistic approach to healthful eating.

  • Combine prawns with whole grains, vegetables, and fruits to create a balanced meal.
  • Incorporate other protein sources such as lean meats, legumes, and nuts to diversify your diet.
  • Use prawns as an occasional substitute for red meat to reduce saturated fat intake and increase the variety of your protein sources.

Following these guidelines on portion size and frequency will help you enjoy prawns as part of a healthy, balanced diet without overindulgence. Always be conscious of personalized dietary needs and consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider for advice tailored to your specific health goals.

Frequently asked questions

Absolutely, prawns are an excellent choice for low-carb diets since they contain virtually no carbohydrates and are rich in proteins and essential nutrients, aligning well with the dietary restrictions of low-carb eating plans.

Prawns can be a part of a weight loss diet due to their low calorie count and high protein content. Protein can increase feelings of fullness and reduce appetite, potentially leading to lower calorie intake.

Individuals with diabetes can consume prawns as they are low in fat and contain no carbohydrates, which means they have a minimal impact on blood glucose levels. Additionally, their high protein content can aid in maintaining stable blood sugar levels when consumed as part of a balanced diet.

Yes, prawns are beneficial for the skin as they are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help maintain skin elasticity and hydration. They also provide zinc and selenium, known for their roles in skin health and protection against oxidative stress.

Ask a question about Prawns and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • mild symptoms such as hives or a stuffy nose
  • severe responses like anaphylaxis
  • itching
  • hives
  • eczema
  • wheezing
  • nasal congestion
  • trouble breathing
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • fainting

Possible long-term side effects

  • neurological impairment
  • reproductive system effects
  • immune system effects

Ingredients to be aware of


  • high in protein
  • low in calories
  • offers omega-3 fatty acids
  • rich in vitamins and minerals
  • provides selenium and vitamin b12

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Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 04-06-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 04-06-2024

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