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Prawns, or shrimps? (Part 2)

Whether you’re a seasoned cook or getting your hands on cooking prawns for the first time, I’m sure you have questions on which to choose, how much to buy, wondering what the nutritional value of prawns are, and if having too much is really going to drive up your cholesterol level, etc. Let’s dive in a bit more to find out.

Just to recap a little on the size of prawns or shrimps – the smaller the number of pieces on the label, the larger the prawn size. Easy? The kind of prawn or shrimp you should get really depends on your budget, your personal preference and if you are concerned about where your crustaceans come from. To know how much to buy, count the number of prawns per serving against the number of people eating.

These days, besides wild caught seafood, there are farmed ones. Farmed produce is typically cheaper, but what about their quality in comparison? As their names indicate, wild prawns are caught in their natural habitats by fishermen while farmed ones are raised in tanks or ponds on a prawn farm. Hence, there is no surprise that consumers have the perception that wild prawns are more natural, and therefore a better choice to their farmed counterparts.

Price-wise, farmed prawns are less costly whereas wild produce may be prohibitive to shoppers with a limited budget. As can be imagined, wild caught seafood needs more labour, to be thoroughly inspected and regulated, which requires more care and money. Farmed ones, however, through the use of cost-effective methods, such a vertical farming, and use of other innovative technologies thus increasing yield have managed to keep prices stable and affordable.

Farmed black tiger prawn caught using cast net at an aquaculture farm

This brings us to the next point – the taste and nutritional value of each of the two types of prawns. For some, the difference in taste is negligible, but for the connoisseurs, the taste of wild caught prawns is far more superior. The flavour of the prawns comes from their diet and environment. Wild prawns get nutrients from their natural diet which gives them a natural flavour. The nutritional value of prawns comes mainly from what they eat – wild prawns usually have less saturated fat compared to farm-raised prawns, but farmed crustaceans have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids from their feed.

Environmentalists have criticized both methods. On the one hand, there is the rising concern with overfishing thereby causing populations of prawns to rapidly decline in many regions. On the other hand, the use of excessive amounts of chemicals and additives by some, as well as pollution issues, are known threats. I suppose in the long run, the key is to go to sources that practise environmental sustainability.

Then comes the next question: are fresh prawns better than frozen ones? It’s uncommon to find fresh prawns, unless you live on the coast or catch your own. Truth be told, most “fresh” prawns at seafood counters were frozen at some point in time and then defrosted before they were put out for sale. If you bought frozen prawns, chances are they were quick frozen as soon as they were caught, preserving the freshness.

Some of my friends worry about cholesterol and avoid eating prawns and shellfish. Cholesterol is made mainly in the liver, and is found in foods such as eggs, shellfish, meat and dairy products. The good news is: most of us eat less than 300mg of cholesterol per day – a small amount compared to the amount of saturated fats we consume. It is more crucial to cut down on foods with saturated fats as this affect how the liver handles cholesterol. Saturated fat is the main culprit that raises your blood cholesterol.

Having a healthy prawn dish without much saturated fats is a sure winner

While seafood, particularly prawns and squid, can be quite high in cholesterol, they contain very little saturated or trans fats. Trans fats have a greater effect on blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol does. In addition, prawns are low in fat, have B vitamins, protein, and the nutrients selenium and zinc. They also boast high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, which raise HDL (good cholesterol) levels. If you chomped down 12 large prawns, it’s roughly 130 milligrams of cholesterol. The recommendation as always is to eat in moderation. Choosing a healthy cooking method definitely helps. A high-cholesterol dish is healthier when it’s low in saturated fat. Curbing your saturated fat intake, at the end of the day, works even better than cutting all cholesterol. Having your favourite prawns and shrimps once or twice a week should be fine, but check with your doctor to be sure.

Prawns will continue to be on my plate and will remain part of my diet. Cheers!


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