Shellfish are aquatic animals with a shell-like exterior structure. They dwell in both saltwater and freshwater and are categorized into two groups – crustaceans and mollusks. Shellfish are rich in protein, micronutrients, and healthy fats, like DHA, which can support a baby’s growth and development.
However, shellfish are known to trigger allergies and can be contaminated with hazardous metals, like mercury and cadmium.
In this post, we tell you about shellfish, its nutritional value, the safe intake, and points to consider while feeding it to babies.
When Can Babies Eat Shellfish?
Some experts suggest feeding well-cooked shellfish once the baby is older than six months and has started consuming other solids, such as cereals, grains, poultry, and meat. However, some recommend delaying it up to 9 to 12 months due to its potential to cause allergies (1).
Consult a pediatrician and know the right age to start feeding shellfish to your baby, especially if you have a family history of food allergies.
Nutritional Value Of Shellfish
The nutritional value varies across the types of shellfish (crustaceans and mollusks). The commonly consumed crustaceans are crab, crayfish, lobster, shrimp, krill, and prawn, while widely consumed mollusks are clams, scallops, oysters, and mussels (2).
Below is an approximate nutritional composition of various shellfish types (cooked) with a serving size of three ounces (85g) (3).
|Type||Calories (kcal)||Protein (g)||Fat (g)|
Source: Seafood Health Facts
Possible Health Benefits Of Shellfish For Babies And Toddlers
Different shellfish have different health benefits. Some of the common ones are:
- Rich in high-quality protein: Shellfish like scallops, shrimp, and blue crab contain protein. Seafood protein is also a good source of digestible proteins, essential amino acids that are important for the development of babies (4).
- Abundant micronutrients: Moderate consumption of shellfish can supply micro nutrients, such as vitamins B12 and D, sodium, potassium, copper, zinc, and iodine (2). These micronutrients help regulate several essential physiological functions, like physical and mental growth.
- Source of healthy fats: Polyunsaturated fatty acids (good fats), such as DHA and EPA, which are types of omega-3 fatty acids (2), a
- Immunostimulating properties: Shellfish contain carotenoids like astaxanthin, which has immunostimulating properties (2). It also has peptides, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, D, B12, iron, copper, and zinc, which are considered beneficial for the immune system (5). Thus, regular consumption of shellfish may help boost immunity in the long run.
Regular consumption of shellfish may have cardio protective, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral benefits, as well.
Possible Side Effects Of Shellfish In Infants
Just like any other food, shellfish has its share of potential side effects for babies.
- Foodborne illnesses: Raw and under cooked shellfish, mostly clams, oysters, and mussels, may contain viruses and bacteria that can lead to poisoning. Shellfish from contaminated water can contain dangerous pathogens, such as norovirus (6). Besides, contaminated shellfish may contain marine contaminants, such as harmful algal bloom (HAB) toxin and brevetoxin, which might be fatal for babies (7) (8).
- Chemical contamination: Lobsters, scallops, and crab can be prone to mercury contamination (9). Other shellfish can also be contaminated with lead and mercury, especially when harvested from polluted waters. High levels of mercury can adversely affect the central nervous system (10).
- Allergy: The allergic reaction to shellfish depends on the individual and the type of shellfish. Some of the common food allergy symptoms are wheezing, trouble breathing, coughing, diarrhea, stomach ache, red spots hives, and itchy, watery, swollen eyes. An extreme allergic reaction can cause anaphylaxis (11).
See a doctor promptly if you notice any allergy symptoms or if your baby seems unwell after consuming shellfish.
The best way to avoid these adverse effects is to follow FDA advisories on fish and shellfish selection, storage, and cooking.
Tips To Include Shellfish In Your Baby’s Diet
The following tips could help reduce the risk of adverse effects of shellfish consumption among babies.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends serving an ounce (30g) of fish and shellfish, once or twice a week, to toddlers between two and three years of age (12). However, there is no clear recommendation available for babies. When introducing a new food, start with a small amount to minimize a potential allergic reaction. Therefore, consult your pediatrician on the right amount of shellfish consumption for your baby.
- Purchase shellfish from trusted sellers, preferably those approved by the government or the FDA. It can ensure that the shellfish contain no contaminant, such as mercury, or mercury is within the safe limits of human consumption.
- Never feed uncooked or under-cooked shellfish to a baby as it can increase the risk of food poisoning (13). The CDC states that seafood should be cooked to at least 145°F (63°C).
- Cook shellfish at home and do not feed shellfish bought from a restaurant. Do not feed any leftover cooked seafood to a baby. Cross contamination from cooking utensils or cooks touching different foods occur easily in restaurants.
- Introduce only one type of shellfish at a time. Follow a “three-to-five day wait” rule to check for allergic reactions.
- Feed small amounts, like half to one teaspoon at a time. It could help your baby to adjust to the taste, texture, and digestion of the food.
- Babies below the age of 12 months should be fed shellfish as puree, paste, or a mash. Toddlers over the age of 12 months can be served well-cooked small pieces of shellfish as finger food.
The regular consumption of shellfish can provide “essential nutrients” to a baby. In most cases, babies can have shellfish by 12 months of age but alongwith various other food groups. Be cautious while selecting, storing, and cooking shellfish to avoid contaminants and risk of food poisoning.
2. VazhiyilVenugopal and KumarapanickerGopakumar; Shellfish: Nutritive Value, Health Benefits, and Consumer Safety; Wiley Online Library
3. Fish and Shellfish Nutrient Composition; Seafood Health Facts: Making Smart Choices; Seafood health facts
4. RyotaHosomi et al.,Seafood Consumption and Components for Health; CCSE
5. Faye M. Dong,The Nutritional Value of Shellfish; University of Washington
6. Foods That Can Cause Food Poisoning; CDC
7. Marine Environments; CDC
8. Case Definition: Brevetoxin; CDC
9. All About Shellfish; Winchester Hospital
10. EPA-FDA Advice about Eating Fish and Shellfish; EPA
11. Shellfish Allergy; John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital
12. Healthy Fish Choices for Kids; Healthy Children; AAP
13. Foods to avoid giving babies and young children; NHS
- When Can Your Baby Start Eating Meat?
- How And When Should You Introduce Solid Foods To Your Baby?
- When Can Your Baby Start Eating Dairy Products?
- What Is The Best Time To Wean Your Baby?