More Iron than Beef
Clams are surprisingly high in iron. So high, in fact, that t-bone steaks and beef liver don't compare. A three-ounce serving of cooked clams, or about nine small clams, has about 24 milligrams of iron. That's more iron than recommended each day for most adults (iron RDA is 18 milligrams per day for pre-menopausal women and eight milligrams per day for adult men and post-menopausal women.) Some individuals, especially women, have a difficult time getting enough iron each day, resulting in anemia if not treated. If you suffer from low iron, eating clams occasionally will help maintain your iron stores. On the other hand, some individuals absorb too much iron or get too much iron from the foods they eat. For these people, eating clams often may be a problem. The minerals in clams doesn't stop with iron. Clams are a good source of phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium, as well.
Good Marks on Contaminants
Fish and seafood, although generally healthy to eat, are also potentially high in toxic contaminants. According to the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector, most clams have low levels of the contaminants found in some other fish and seafood species. If you're concerned about effects on the environment, softshell clams are rated "best" and wild clams are rated "OK" in terms of the environmental impact of clam production or fishing. Contaminants in seafood are closely linked to specific pollution and industrial activity near water where clams are harvested. To be sure of the safety of local clams, check with local authorities.
Clams contain about 140 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per 100 grams (about 3 1/2 ounces.) How does that compare with recommendations? There are no formal dietary recommendations for omega-3 intake, but studies have shown that 250 to 500 milligrams per day may be useful in achieving optimal heart health. If you are getting tired of eating oily fish each week to meet recommendations, add clams to your recipe rotation a few times a month.
Better Than Chicken?
Clams qualify as a lean protein at more than 20 grams of protein and less than two grams of fat in a three-ounce serving. Clams have more protein than oysters and scallops, but roughly the same protein and fat content as chicken. There are major differences, however, in the nutrient profile of clams and chicken. Clams contain significantly more of most vitamins and minerals than chicken. It makes nutritional sense to choose clam chowder over cream of chicken soup!
What About Cholesterol?
Clams contain fair amounts of cholesterol. There is nothing special about the cholesterol found in seafood like clams and shrimp. The reason seafood isn't prohibited for people with high cholesterol has more to do with the low fat and saturated-fat content of seafood like clams. Eating a low saturated-fat diet is much more important in maintaining healthy blood cholesterol than eating a low-cholesterol diet.