In our modern day, it seems that nearly everything we eat carries the risk of being unhealthy. Eating fish has known health benefits, yet some species of fish may contain unsafe levels of mercury and PCB’s. Eating fresh fruit is known to be healthy, yet many fruits are sprayed with chemical pesticides the residues of which are of questionable risk. The same can be said of vegetables.
Whether the above mentioned food items are healthy or unhealthy is beyond the scope of this article. It does point out, though, that the debate continues on which foods contribute to good health, and which foods pose a health risk. This article will present information for the reader to determine which camp lobster belongs in: healthy or unhealthy.
Let’s start with the few arguments that put forth the case that lobster is unhealthy. There are not many. We’ve read that one doctor advises against eating lobster because it may contain parasites and viruses. Nothing like pointing out the obvious. Every living creature on Earth may contain parasites and viruses, which is why any animal-based food product should be cooked before being eaten. Cooking eliminates this risk. One risk that cooking will not eliminate is excess levels of mercury. No matter how much you cook any fish or seafood item, it will not remove mercury.
How much mercury does lobster have? Before we answer that question, we need to look a little at mercury and the reasons it is in seafood to begin with. The FDA states in their report “What you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish” that “nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury” and that “Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans.”
What can be gleaned from this report are two facts. One, that all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. Two, Mercury occurs naturally as well. If mercury occurs naturally, it is probably safe to assume that all fish and shellfish have always contained traces of mercury. Which begs the question: are mercury levels in fish and shellfish any higher now than they were 50 or 100 years ago? The answer is that scientists do no know for sure, as tests for mercury in fish were not done back then. Regardless, the FDA lists four fish varieties that have higher level of mercury than all others: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. They also list five that are very low in mercury: shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. Lobster is closer to the 5 on the low end than the 4 on the high end.
Even the 4 fish varieties that have higher levels of mercury are safe to eat in moderation for all people other than pregnant mothers, and mothers nursing infant children. It is only these 4 varieties that should be avoided in the two circumstances just mentioned. Lobster is not included in the list of fish to avoid when pregnant.
The final argument against lobster that we have heard is not based on science at all. The argument is that lobsters are bottom feeders and eat decaying and rotting fish that sink to the bottom. The logic of the argument is that since lobsters are eating these things that aren’t healthy for people, people shouldn’t be eating lobsters. The problem with this argument is that it is not based on facts. The fact is that lobsters eat mainly live food. Their primary diet consists of live fish, clams, crabs, mussels and sea urchins. Lobsters do eat dead bait in traps, but humans eat dead fish too! Ask any lobsterman, and they will tell you: the fresher the bait, the better it will “fish.” This is trade language which, when translated, means that if you put fresh bait in your traps it will attract more lobsters. Old bait does not attract many lobsters at all.
When fish gets old and borderline saleable at a seafood market, it begins to emit an ammonia smell. At that point, which can be about 5 to 7 days after being caught, it is no longer appealing to humans. It is the same for lobsters. They prefer live, fresh food, but will eat dead bait in traps if it is fresh and not old.
This last argument against lobster as a healthy food is the weakest and not based upon fact at all, but rather on fallacy: lobsters eat primarily live food, not decaying, rotting dead fish.
Now we’ll look at the factors in favor of lobster being a healthy food.
There are several health reasons that lobster should be eaten. The first comes from the American Heart Associations Page on Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids which recommends eating fish at least 2 times per week. A quote from the American Heart Association is worth sharing here, “Fish is a good source of protein and doesn’t have the high saturated fat that fatty meat products do.”
Lobster is indeed an excellent source of lean protein. 100 grams of lobster meat contains 98 calories, 21 grams of protein, and only 0.6 grams of fat. Contrast that to 100 grams of white, skinless chicken meat which has 168 calories, 31 grams of protein, and 3.6 grams of fat. Gram for gram, even skinless chicken contains in excess of 500% more fat than lobster. Lean beef contains more than 10 times as much fat as lobster. Obviously, lobster is an excellent source of lean protein.
Lobster is more than just a lean source of protein. Lobster also contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with good heart health. There are several valuable benefits from a diet which regularly contains Omega-3 fatty acids. Again quoting from the American Heart Association, “The ways that omega-3 fatty acids reduce CVD (cardio-vascular disease) risk are still being studied. However, research has shown that they decrease risk of arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden cardiac death, decrease triglyceride levels, decrease growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and lower blood pressure (slightly).” The report further states, “Large-scale epidemiologic studies suggest that people at risk for coronary heart disease benefit from consuming omega-3 fatty acids from plants and marine sources.”
Lobster does not contain as much Omega-3 fatty acids as salmon, which has the highest content, but is a good source nonetheless.
In summary, lobster is high in protein, extremely low in fat, is a beneficial source of Omega-3 fatty acids which are healthy for the heart and reduce the growth rate of plaque. Lobsters feed primarily on live food: fish, crabs, clams and mussels. Lobster have a very healthy diet which would be beneficial to humans, not harmful to them.
There you have the arguments for and against lobster as a healthy food source. The evidence suggests lobster is a very healthy food choice. Not only is it very healthy, it tastes absolutely extravagant. Enjoy your lobster!