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

Is Crab Bad For You?



Short answer

Crab meat is nutritious, high in protein, vitamin B12, and selenium. It's also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial for heart and brain health. However, it contains cholesterol, sodium, and may carry mercury, so consumption should be balanced. Sustainability and ethical sourcing are important when choosing crab.



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Long answer

Crab Meat Nutritional Profile: Proteins, Vitamins, and Minerals

Crab meat is a treasure trove of nutrition and serves as an excellent source of high-quality protein. A 3-ounce serving of cooked crab meat can provide roughly 16.45 grams of protein, which is essential for building and repairing tissues, hormones, enzymes, and other important bodily functions. Unlike many high-protein sources, crab meat is low in saturated fat, making it a heart-healthy choice.

Apart from its impressive protein content, crab is packed with vitamins and minerals. One of the most notable is Vitamin B12; a single serving contains almost 300% of the recommended daily value. Vitamin B12 is crucial for maintaining nerve health and aiding in the production of DNA and red blood cells.

Crab meat also provides a rich source of selenium—an antioxidant that plays a key role in metabolism, thyroid function, and protection against oxidative stress. The selenium content in a 3-ounce serving of crab can exceed 40 micrograms, which is well over the daily requirement for an adult. In addition, crabs contain significant amounts of zinc, an essential mineral that supports immune system health, and wound healing.

Don't overlook the Omega-3 fatty acids present in crab meat. Omega-3s are associated with brain health, anti-inflammation, and reduction of heart disease risk. Incorporating crab into your diet can contribute to your Omega-3 intake, which is often under-consumed in the standard western diet.

To summarize the nutritional virtues of crab, here's a quick glance at its profile per 3-ounce (85 grams) serving:

Nutrient Amount % Daily Value (DV)
Calories 84
Protein 16.45 g 33%
Total Fat 0.84 g 1%
Saturated Fat 0.114 g 1%
Cholesterol 71 mg 24%
Vitamin B12 9.78 mcg 299%
Selenium 34.2 mcg 62%
Zinc 3.36 mg 31%
Sodium 237 mg 10%
Omega-3 Fatty Acids 351 mg *

*DV not established for Omega-3 fatty acids.

While crab meat's nutrition profile is quite favorable, it's important to consider dietary balance and moderation. The cholesterol in crab is notable, and for those watching their cholesterol levels, it's wise to consume it judiciously. On balance, however, the combination of lean protein, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial fats in crab meat makes it a valuable part of a diverse and healthy diet, when consumed in appropriate amounts.

It's also essential to source your crab from reputable suppliers to ensure it is low in contaminants and sustainable. Wild-caught, well-managed stocks tend to be the best choices for health and environmental impact.

Potential Risks of Mercury Content in Crab

Mercury is a heavy metal that is found in various forms in the environment. One particular form, methylmercury, accumulates in the aquatic food chain, and thus, is commonly found in varying levels within seafood, including varieties of crab. Exposure to high levels of methylmercury can pose serious health risks to humans, especially affecting the nervous system.

The primary concern regarding mercury in seafood is its potential impact on pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and young children. The developing nervous systems of fetuses and children are particularly vulnerable to methylmercury, which can impair cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, fine motor skills, and visual-spatial skills.

  • Neurodevelopmental Effects: Studies have shown that prenatal exposure to methylmercury can result in long-term cognitive deficits. A report presented by the National Research Council (US) Committee on the Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury highlights the potential impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, and attention.
  • Cardiovascular Risks: Some research suggests that mercury exposure could also contribute to cardiovascular diseases in adults. A study published in the journal "Atherosclerosis" indicates that high mercury intake might be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events.
  • Mercury Levels in Crab: Crabs generally have lower mercury levels compared to larger fish. According to the FDA, crab meat contains an average of 0.065 parts per million (ppm) of mercury, which is considered low. However, consumption of crabs should still be moderated due to the cumulative effect of mercury.
  • Species Variation: The mercury content in crab can vary depending on the species, geographical location, and water contamination levels. For example, blue crab and king crab often have lower mercury levels, while certain species like the snow crab can have higher levels. It’s essential to be aware of the specific type of crab and its origin.
  • Consumer Advisory: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and FDA have issued advice for women who might become pregnant, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and young children to help them make informed choices about fish and shellfish, which includes crab, to reduce their exposure to mercury.

It is important to consult with healthcare providers for personalized advice, especially if crab is a significant portion of one’s diet or if there are concerns regarding mercury exposure. The balance between the nutritional benefits of consuming seafood and the potential risks of mercury contamination should be carefully considered.


Source Key Finding Relevance
National Research Council (US) Committee on the Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury Identified potential impacts of mercury on cognitive abilities in developing fetuses. Highlights the importance of monitoring mercury intake from seafood during pregnancy.
Journal "Atherosclerosis" Linked high mercury intake to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Indicates the broader health risks associated with mercury beyond neurodevelopmental effects.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Provides average mercury levels in various types of seafood, including crab. Offers a baseline for consumers to understand and compare mercury content in seafood.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Issued consumer advisories on fish and shellfish consumption related to mercury. Guide for consumers, especially vulnerable groups, to make safer seafood choices.

Sodium Levels in Crab: Hypertension Concerns

Now, let's delve into the salty depths of a popular seafood choice: crab. The sodium content of crab meat might come as a surprise to many who enjoy its savory flavor. It's important to evaluate the sodium levels in crab, especially when considering dietary intake for those managing hypertension or looking to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Crab meat, particularly when processed or canned, can harbor high amounts of sodium. According to the USDA, a 3-ounce serving of cooked blue crab meat contains approximately 911 milligrams of sodium. To put this in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day and moving toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams per day for most adults. A single serving of crab can significantly contribute to this limit.

Let's break down the considerations for those with hypertension:

  • Sodium Intake and Blood Pressure: High sodium intake is directly linked with high blood pressure, a condition also known as hypertension. This is a concern since hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • Variability Among Species: Different types of crab have varying amounts of sodium. For instance, Alaska king crab generally contains more sodium than blue crab. It's important to check the nutritional information based on the specific type of crab being consumed.
  • Preparation Matters: The way crab is prepared also contributes to its sodium content. Crab that is boiled in saltwater, preserved, or served with sauces and seasonings can dramatically increase sodium content, posing additional risks for hypertension.
  • Sensitive Populations: Individuals with existing high blood pressure, the elderly, and those with a family history of cardiovascular disease should be particularly mindful of their sodium intake from foods like crab.

When considering the sodium content in crab and its potential impact on hypertension, it's clear that portion control and preparation methods are key. Consuming fresh crab, avoiding additional salty seasonings, and opting for low-sodium cooking methods such as steaming can help mitigate some of these concerns.

For those who enjoy crab but need to monitor their sodium intake closely, consulting with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance on incorporating crab into a well-balanced, hypertension-conscious diet.

Further complicating matters, not all canned or processed crab meat is created equal. It's essential to read labels for sodium content, as some products may be labeled as "low sodium" or "no salt added," offering better options for those on sodium-restricted diets.

Recent studies have shed more light on the connection between seafood consumption and cardiovascular health. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that moderate seafood consumption was associated with a lower risk of major cardiovascular events among individuals with a history of heart disease, citing not just omega-3 fatty acids but other nutrients as well. However, the sodium content in seafood choices like crab must be accounted for to maintain the balance between benefits and potential risks.

While crab can be a valuable part of a diverse and nutrient-rich diet, awareness and moderation are the watchwords when it comes to sodium and hypertension concerns. By making informed choices, individuals can enjoy crab's delicious flavor without compromising their health.

Cholesterol Content in Crab and Heart Health

When discussing the health implications of consuming crab, it's imperative to address the concerns surrounding cholesterol levels and how they may impact heart health. Crabs, like other shellfish, are often highlighted for their cholesterol content. A typical serving of cooked crab meat (about 3 ounces) contains approximately 45 to 60 milligrams of cholesterol. This represents a considerable portion of the daily recommended limit for cholesterol intake, which, according to the American Heart Association, should be no more than 300 milligrams for individuals without heart issues.

However, the dietary cholesterol found in crab and shellfish is not as concerning as once thought. Recent studies have shifted the focus from dietary cholesterol to the harms of saturated and trans fats in diet-induced cardiovascular diseases. Researchers state that the impact of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol is minimal in comparison to the influence of saturated fats and trans fats. This means that for many individuals, eating crab in moderation is unlikely to significantly affect blood cholesterol levels or heart disease risk.

The nutritional profile of crab offers more than just cholesterol; it's also a rich source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and important minerals such as zinc and selenium. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, have been widely recognized for their heart-protective effects. They help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and decrease triglyceride levels, all of which are beneficial for heart health. This balance of nutrients can contribute to the overall dietary quality and health benefits attributed to crab consumption, despite its cholesterol content.

For individuals with existing high cholesterol levels or cardiovascular disease, consumption of crab should be more mindful. The American Heart Association recommends that people with high cholesterol, particularly those with LDL cholesterol levels above 100 mg/dL, or with existing heart disease, diabetes, or other cardiovascular risk factors, should limit their intake of foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats. Consulting a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian can help tailor a diet plan that includes crab without exceeding daily recommendations for cholesterol intake.

Incorporating crab into a heart-healthy diet requires attention to both preparation methods and portion sizes. Steaming or boiling crab and seasoning with herbs and spices, rather than butter or high-fat sauces, can help minimize the addition of unhealthy fats. Being cognizant of portion sizes also helps in managing overall cholesterol intake.

To provide a snapshot of the cholesterol content in comparison to other foods:

Food Item Serving Size Cholesterol (mg)
Crab, cooked 3 oz 45-60
Shrimp, cooked 3 oz 165-200
Egg, whole 1 large 186
Chicken breast, cooked 3 oz 73

This table allows viewers to gauge how crab compares to other common sources of dietary cholesterol. Undoubtedly, a balanced approach to consuming various cholesterol-containing foods is key to maintaining heart health and enjoying the rich, succulent taste of crab.

Allergy and Food Sensitivity Issues with Crab Consumption

Crabs, along with other shellfish, are among the most common food allergens. When considering the consumption of crab, it's crucial to recognize the potential risks for individuals who have seafood allergies or are sensitive to certain proteins found in shellfish. Allergic reactions to crab can range from mild to severe and include symptoms such as:

  • Hives or a skin rash
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, or other parts of the body
  • Anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that requires immediate medical attention

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, shellfish allergies are most often the immune system's response to a protein found in shellfish muscles called tropomyosin. Allergies can occur in response to very small amounts of shellfish, and even inhaling cooking vapors can trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals.

Crab meat also contains high levels of purines, which can exacerbate conditions such as gout in susceptible individuals. Purines can break down into uric acid and excess amounts in the system can lead to the formation of crystals in the joints, causing pain and inflammation characteristic of gout.

People who do not have a diagnosed allergy to shellfish may still exhibit a food sensitivity to crab. These sensitivities result in more subtle symptoms that tend not to be life-threatening but can still cause discomfort and digestive issues. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Bloating or gas
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Reflux or heartburn
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Chronic fatigue or lethargy

For those with diagnosed shellfish allergies or sensitivities, avoidance of crab is typically advised. Cross-contamination in kitchens can be a concern, as even trace amounts of crab in other foods can cause reactions in hypersensitive individuals. Nutritionists and allergists recommend that individuals with these conditions diligently read labels, inquire about food preparation practices when dining out, and carry emergency medication, such as epinephrine auto-injectors, in case of accidental exposure.

It should be noted that research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology suggests that some shellfish allergic individuals can tolerate certain types of shellfish, but due to cross-reactivity among shellfish proteins, medical consultation and potential allergen testing should precede any dietary inclusion of these foods.

For persons without a susceptibility to high-purine foods or a predisposition to shellfish allergies, crab can be a nutritious part of the diet. However, those with relevant health issues should consider these factors carefully and discuss them with a healthcare provider to determine the best dietary choices for their individual needs.

Sustainability and Ethical Concerns in Crab Fishing

When discussing whether crab is bad for you, it is crucial to consider not just the nutritional value, but also the broader ethical and sustainability implications of crab fishing. This industry, central to the livelihoods of many coastal communities, is not without its controversies.

One of the main concerns lies in the methodologies used to harvest crabs. Certain practices have been scrutinized for their impact on marine ecosystems. For instance:

  • Bycatch: Non-target species are often caught in the process of crab fishing, which can lead to the decline of other important marine animals. Bycatch is not only wasteful but also detrimental to the balance of marine life.
  • Habitat Destruction: Some crabbing methods may damage the seafloor habitat, particularly when heavy fishing gear is dragged along the ocean bottom. This destruction can have long-term effects on the regenerative capacity of these ecosystems.
  • Overfishing: The high market demand for certain types of crab can lead to overfishing. This depletes stocks faster than they can replenish, threatening the crab populations and the health of marine environments.

On the ethical side of the discussion, the labor practices in some crab fishing operations have raised serious concerns:

  • Working conditions on crabs fishing vessels can sometimes be extremely harsh, with reports of long hours, dangerous tasks, and inadequate safety measures.
  • There have been instances where crab fishing operations have lacked transparency and accountability, which can lead to exploitation and abuse.

To address these sustainability and ethical concerns, various certification programs and regulations have been introduced. These include:

  • The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, which assesses if a fishery is well-managed and sustainable.
  • Regulations that dictate quotas and allowable fishing gear to minimize bycatch and habitat impact.
  • Labor laws that protect the rights of workers in the fishing industry.

As consumers, it's important to be informed about the sources of the crab we consume. Choosing crabs that are certified by credible organizations or sourced from fisheries that follow strict sustainability practices can greatly reduce the ecological and ethical concerns associated with crab fishing.

Research is ongoing to assess the full impact of crab fishing practices. Here are a few additional points of research relevant to the topic:

  • Studies on the recovery rates of marine habitats following sustainable fishing practices, showing the time needed for ecosystems to bounce back.
  • Research on the life cycles of different crab species to understand how fishing impacts their populations over time.
  • Social science research into the working conditions of those employed in the crab fishing industry, aiming to improve industry standards and policies.

In conclusion, the sustainability and ethical concerns in crab fishing are multifaceted. While enjoying crab as a nutritious seafood choice, it’s also important to consider the broader environmental and social responsibilities we hold. Choosing sustainably sourced crab and supporting ethical fishing practices contribute to the health of our oceans and the well-being of those who depend on them.

Frequently asked questions

Pregnant women can eat crab meat in moderation as it's low in mercury compared to larger fish. However, it's best to limit crab intake and consult with a healthcare provider to manage mercury exposure during pregnancy.

Crab meat does contain cholesterol but is also rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. For those with heart conditions, it's recommended to eat crab in moderation and focus on overall dietary balance, including low saturated fat intake.

Some individuals with shellfish allergies might tolerate certain types of shellfish; however, due to cross-reactivity among shellfish proteins, they should consult with an allergist and undergo allergen testing before including any shellfish in their diet.

To reduce sodium in crab, choose fresh, unprocessed crab and prepare it by steaming or boiling without adding salt. Avoiding canned or pre-seasoned crab and not using extra salty seasonings can also help control sodium levels.

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

Possible short-term side effects

  • mild to severe allergic reactions
  • gastrointestinal discomfort

Possible long-term side effects

  • mercury accumulation
  • increased blood pressure
  • nutrient deficiencies if over-reliant on crab as protein source

Ingredients to be aware of


  • high protein
  • low saturated fat
  • rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • high in b12, selenium, and zinc

Healthier alternatives

  • other lean proteins with less sodium and cholesterol
  • plant-based omega-3 sources
  • sustainable seafood options

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Wild Planet Sockeye Salmon

  • Skinless & Boneless
  • Sustainably Caught
  • Non-GMO Verified
  • Kosher Certified
  • Rich in Omega-3
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-08-2023
Last updated: 12-15-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-08-2023
Last updated: 12-15-2023

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