Harms of Eating Clams on Your Health

Clams' health risks include high cholesterol, consuming with too much butter, eating raw clams and having an allergic reaction. Check out these risks to ensure that you're consuming clams in a healthy way.

Clams offer nutritional benefits, but eating too many may be harmful.
Credit: Eugene Mymrin/Moment/GettyImages

Cholesterol, Fat and Carbs

According to clams' nutrition information from the USDA, 1 cup of boiled or steamed clams contains 90 milligrams of cholesterol. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans doesn't have a recommendation for a specific cholesterol limit but suggests consuming as little cholesterol as possible while following a healthy diet, as foods that are high in cholesterol are usually also high in saturated fats.

One cup of steamed or boiled clams contains 2.86 grams of total fats. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you get 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories from fat. For example, if you're on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, your target range for total fats is 44 to 78 grams. As long as you're not slathering your clams in melted butter, the fat content of one serving is not one of clams' health risks.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily caloric intake. If you're on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, you should get between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates a day. One cup of boiled or steamed clams has 10.7 grams of carbohydrates. Again, as long as you're not slathering your clams in melted butter, this isn't bad.

Clams and Melted Butter

One of the health risks of eating clams could be the tradition of dunking them in a cup of melted butter. If you're eating your serving of clams plain, they aren't going to exceed your daily limits of calories, carbohydrates or fat. However, if you're partaking in the melted butter dunking, eating clams could be bad for your health.

According to the USDA, 1 tablespoon (14.2 grams) of salted butter contains 102 calories, 11.5 grams of total fat, 7.29 grams of saturated fat, 91.3 milligrams of sodium and 30.5 milligrams of cholesterol. Butter is fine in moderation, but if you're eating more than a tablespoon of melted butter with your clams, your calorie, fat, cholesterol and sodium intakes could easily go way over your recommended daily levels.

If you love melted butter with your clams, try limiting your use of butter to just 1 tablespoon. Mix the butter with your clams in a bowl, instead of dipping them. This adjustment will help you keep everything in moderation.

Read more: Is Ghee Healthier Than Butter?

How to Cook Clams

Clams do carry some risk, if not handled, stored and cooked properly. The Oregon Health Authority points out that eating raw or undercooked clams is bad for your health. Shellfish, like clams, ingest bacteria (such as Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a common type of bacteria found in shellfish) along with the water they ingest, and these continue to multiply when refrigerated. The only way to kill these bacteria is by cooking the shellfish properly.

First, ensure that your clams are not dead before cooking them. If you tap a live clam, the shell will close. If it is dead, the shell will be wide open and it will have a bad odor. Wash your hands thoroughly in hot, soapy water before and after handling the raw clams.

If you're boiling the clams, watch for them to open and then continue boiling them for three to five minutes afterward. If you're steaming them, put the clams in a pot of boiling water and steam for four to nine minutes. After boiling or steaming, throw away any clams that are still closed.

If you're cooking shucked clams (removed from their shells), watch for them to become plump and opaque. You can boil or simmer shucked clams for three minutes, fry them in oil at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for three minutes or bake them for 10 minutes in a 450 F oven.

Tip

About Shellfish Allergies

Shellfish allergies are widespread, and shellfish are one of the eight major food allergens, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. These allergies can be life-threatening, and every three minutes, an allergic reaction to food sends someone to emergency care. Every year, in the United States alone, 200,000 people need emergency medical care due to an allergic reaction to food.

A serious allergic reaction to shellfish (including clams) involves an anaphylactic reaction, and the only effective treatment is epinephrine, usually in the form of an epinephrine auto-injector. This medication must be administered as soon as possible. Waiting could be lethal.

Read more: 10 Facts You Need to Know About Food Allergies

Clams Nutrition Data

According to the USDA, 1 cup of boiled or steamed clams (eight large clams, 12 medium clams or 15 small clams) is rich in protein, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B12, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids. Here is a breakdown of clams' nutrition:

  • Calories: 256
  • Protein: 43.8 grams
  • Fat (total): 2.86 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 10.7 grams
  • Calcium: 117 milligrams
  • Iron: 4.36 milligrams
  • Magnesium: 57 milligrams
  • Phosphorus: 444 milligrams
  • Potassium: 124 milligrams
  • Sodium: 678 milligrams
  • Zinc: 1.53 milligrams
  • Copper: 0.14 milligrams
  • Selenium: 91.4 micrograms
  • Thiamin: 0.042 milligrams
  • Riboflavin: 0.12 milligrams
  • Niacin: 0.94 milligrams
  • Vitamin B6: 0.03 milligrams
  • Folate: 10.5 micrograms
  • Choline: 194 milligrams
  • Vitamin B12: 30.3 micrograms
  • Vitamin A: 242 micrograms
  • Retinol: 242 micrograms
  • Vitamin E: 2.02 milligrams
  • Vitamin K: 0.6 micrograms
  • Cholesterol: 90 milligrams

The Maine Clammers Association states that clams are good for men's sexual health because they're a good source of zinc. Clams can help with men's reproductive health, because zinc is vital for the production of healthy sperm and testosterone.

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