Shrimp – the good and the bad

shrimp-salad-833214_640Americans like shrimp and eat about 4 pounds of mostly large shrimp or prawns a year. Most of those shrimp (about 94%) are imported and most are farmed. The TQI Diet, however, includes only the small wild pink or Northern shrimp as every day choices. Eliminating the most popular types of shrimp, of course, leads many to ask why they should make this change.

        Our seafood unfortunately comes with both heavy metals (e.g., mercury and cadmium) and persistent toxins such as dioxins, PCBs, flame retardants, etc. Figuring out the actual toxins we are exposed to from the shrimp we eat is tricky because studies generally look only at a few toxins at a time and ignore all others. For example, in testing shrimp after the Louisiana oil spill, the FDA evaluated “high-priority” hydrocarbons and concluded that the residue of those toxins in shrimp did not pose a serious health concern. This allowed the white shrimp fisheries in the gulf to reopen. However, a subsequent study noted that many of the chemicals found in gulf shrimp lacked toxicity data and were not included in the FDA’s health risk assessments. When a conservative attempt was made to factor those toxins into the equation, risk estimates of Louisiana white shrimp actually rose to an unacceptable level.
        Farmed imported shrimp — and most of what we see at restaurants and in the grocery store are farmed in other countries – present problems not even touched on in toxicity studies. These shrimp are often raised in ponds filled with fecal matter, chemicals, and decaying food. The shrimp end up sick causing the farmer to use antibiotics and other drugs that leave a residue in the shrimp. The shrimp are packed in ice that is not always (or even usually) as clean as it should be and the general hygiene on foreign shrimp farms is often lacking. As a result, 60% of shrimp tested positive for bacteria in tests run by Consumer Reports.
        While shrimp destined for the US market are not supposed to be exposed to any antibiotics or banned pesticides, oversight is lacking. The government only tests about 0.7% of shrimp entering the country and this is not enough: Consumer Reports found prohibited antibiotics and pesticides in tested shrimp. More drug resistant bacteria were found on shrimp than were found in similar studies done on chicken, pork or ground turkey. Despite the higher price for wild shrimp, Consumer Reports concluded that wild shrimp from US waters is worth the extra money.
        Sustainability is also an issue. Ecologically important mangroves – wetlands that support biodiversity and absorb significant amounts of greenhouse gases – are cleared for shrimp farms that eventually are abandoned, leaving behind toxic cesspools.
     Even wild shrimping is often unsustainable: Shrimpers drag nets on the ocean floor, damaging other important species: 1 to 3 pounds of other species, including endangered sea turtles, are killed for every pound of wild shrimp caught in many areas. There are federal laws in place to help avoid this type of shrimping but a state law in Louisiana prohibits the implementation of that law; thus by-catch of endangered species remains an issue even in some parts of the US and is a very big issue when it comes to imported wild shrimp.
        Finally, one study undertook a complex evaluation of the relative nutritional benefits of seafood. Seafood provides important nutrients such as omega-3 fats, vitamin D, and iodine. This study balanced the benefit of these nutrients against the dangers of the toxins also present in seafood. Because shrimp, cod. sole, canned tuna, scallops and oysters are lean, they do not contain as many beneficial nutrients as for instance salmon does but this seafood cluster does accumulate toxins. As a result, only small amounts can be eaten before the toxins begin to dominate the picture. This study concluded that shrimp would be a healthy choice if an adult ate a little less than 2 ounces of shrimp a week. If more were consumed, the toxins present would outweigh the nutritional benefits. This means we could comfortably eat 4 pounds of shrimp annually — but only IF we avoid eating any other members of the seafood cluster. If we also eat cod, sole, canned tuna, scallops, and/or oysters we would need to eat less shrimp to “stay ahead” of the toxins.
        The TQI diet does not limit the amount of seafood a person may choose to eat. Instead, it avoids a toxin overload by only allowing cleaner varieties of seafood. This is the main reason why the TQI Diet recommends eating only little wild pink shrimp caught primarily off the west coast where sustainable fishing methods are used. The larger shrimp are at best an occasional treat such as the few weeks in late spring when British Columbia caught spot prawns are available.

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About kathyabascal

Herbalist with a background in neurobiology, biochemistry, and law. Teacher of the TQIDiet, how to quiet inflammation with food.
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2 Responses to Shrimp – the good and the bad

  1. In my area of the country we get Maine shrimp. These are very small, tasty, and wild caught shrimp. They have a short season. I believe these are considered a very healthy crop.

    I also get wild pink shrimp that are caught in the Florida Keys which are sold at a major nation-wide natural foods store. Do you have an opinion on this product as regards the BP oil spill? I’m hoping it’s far enough away from the spill to be considered nontoxic.

    • kathyabascal says:

      Do note, while I try, I am in no way an expert on this topic. However, it does look like the Maine wild shrimp are both clean and sustainably caught.
      I have more hesitancy about those off the Florida Keys. First, the vicinity to the oil spill and the potential toxins that they may have would give me pause. As well, many are not caught in a sustainable manner. My suggestion: Enjoy the season of Maine shrimp and enjoy other types of non-shrimp seafood when they or Pacific coast pink shrimp are not available.

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