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Eating Smart

Don't Brush Off Scallops, Crab Meat


Shellfish sometimes get ignored because they are perceived as a luxury and a nutritional no-no. Though it is true that shellfish are somewhat high in cholesterol, they are very low in fat, with almost no saturated fat. Most authorities agree that saturated fat is the bigger risk factor for heart disease.

Lobster and shrimp are probably the most popular of all shellfish, but two others to consider are scallops and crab.

Scallops: Unlike shellfish that can be kept alive until cooking, scallops aren't able to close their shells tightly and, as a result, die soon after harvesting. In order to maintain freshness, they are usually shucked and trimmed aboard the fishing boats or shortly thereafter. This makes preparation extremely easy.

Scallops are lower in cholesterol than other shellfish (34 milligrams in 3 ounces of cooked scallops). Unfortunately, they are not among the bigger sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect against heart disease and appear to have anti-inflammatory properties. A normal serving (3 ounces) contains 113 calories, 331 milligrams of potassium, 435 milligrams of sodium and 62% of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin B-12. Scallops are also a good source of magnesium and vitamin E.

There are two kinds of scallops readily available commercially: bay scallops, which are quite small and have a sweet, delicate flavor, and sea scallops, which are larger, chewier and less expensive. Another variety, known as the Calico scallop, is actually a small sea scallop sometimes sold as a bay scallop.

The height of the season for fresh scallops is October through March, but you can usually find them year-round. If you buy fresh scallops, make sure they have a sweet smell. They should be glossy and firm, but if they're bright white and bulging, causing them to "melt" together, they have probably been soaked in something to make them heavier or preserved with phosphates to keep them fresh longer.

Watch out for bay scallops that are very uniform. They may have been cut out of larger, less desirable sea scallops.

As always with seafood, it is important to keep scallops very cold until you are ready to cook them. And don't take the chance of cross-contaminating cooked foods by having them come in contact with any raw fish or meat.

Scallops take very little cooking time. They can be added to pasta sauces; poached and used in salads; substituted for shrimp in dishes like scampi, marinara or other favorites; stir-fried with vegetables; or skewered (sea scallops) and grilled.

Crab: Nutritionally, crab meat contains good quantities of protein, niacin, zinc, folate, iron and selenium. It is also extremely high in vitamin B-12 (more than 250% of the RDA in a 3-ounce serving). Like regular fish, it also contains protective omega fatty acids. Regardless of whether the crabs come from the Atlantic or the Pacific oceans (or from freshwater areas), there are two main types: crabs that swim (like the blue crab) and crabs that walk (like the rock crab). Within those two broad categories are several different kinds in the market in most areas.

When you are buying crab, use your eyes and your nose. They should smell fresh and look bright and clean. The shells should be hard (except for the soft-shell varieties), and if they are alive, they should be active. They should feel heavy for their size.

If you are buying cooked crab, it should smell completely fresh. Avoid any with ammonia or fishy odors, and look for those with bright orange-red shells.

The meat should be pure white (although some pieces may be tinged with a little brown or red). Ask to make sure that it was cooked the day you are buying it, and look to see that it is not being displayed next to any raw fish or shellfish that could contaminate it with bacteria.

If you are buying live crabs, cook and eat them the same day you purchase them. However, fresh-cooked crab meat will keep in your refrigerator for a day or two.

Crab meat is incredibly versatile because has a very mild taste. It will absorb the flavor of anything you cook it with. It makes a great addition to a burrito or enchilada. Crab cakes are delicious, but be careful to fry them quickly in very hot oil so they don't absorb too much extra fat.


Dr. Sheldon Margen is a professor of public health at UC Berkeley; Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Send questions to Dale Ogar, School of Public Health, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360, or e-mail to

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