Shrimp or Prawns?

All you need to know about Prawns… and if they really do have too much cholesterol. 

Are they prawns? Or Shrimp? 

The terms ‘prawn’ and ‘shrimp’ have become synonymous in referring to the delicious crustacean we’ve all grown to love. But are they the same thing, though? While restaurant menus across the island may claim that they are, these two sea creatures belong to different species and have distinct features on their bodies that set them apart from one another. Prawns are also by far much larger than shrimp, and thrive only in freshwater. So if you see a menu label your dish as ‘freshwater prawns’, know that those are, indeed, just prawns. 

Cockroach of the sea

Prawns are called cockroaches of the sea not because they are dirty or disgusting, but simply because of the sheer volume of prawns there used to be. Also, prawns thrive on the seabed of the ocean, eating a wide range of meat leftovers that are strewn on the bottom of the ocean floor. But I wouldn’t take this as a reason not to eat prawns. Lobsters are the originators of the term ‘cockroaches of the sea’, and everyone still loves them!

Cholesterol in prawns

Over the years, prawns and shrimp, like coconut milk, have been given a terrible reputation. However, this could not be further from the truth. Shrimp and prawns are similar in nutritional content, and new research actually suggests that shrimp consumption can help improve body cholesterol. Eating shrimp increases both HDL and LDL cholesterol, leading food scientists to conclude that shrimp can contribute to heart health more than we know.

Are you a fan of Thai Red Curry? Here’s my version with… you guessed it! Prawns!

Usually, food that contributes to LDL cholesterol also contains rather large quantities of fat or carbohydrate. However, both of these are missing in this particular crustacean. 100g of shrimp is known to contain less than 0.3g of fat. So shrimp, along with eggs, are food that are high in cholesterol but low in saturated fats. This does not include the head of the shrimp/prawn, though. The rather sinful interior of the prawn’s head has a different calorie count and can be laced with cholesterol and fats that aren’t the best for you. However, like most things that aren’t good for you, the innards of a prawn’s head taste fantastic. In essence, I do believe this is where prawns and shrimp got their notorious label for being extremely high in cholesterol.

Other Health Factors

Other than the age-old cholesterol debates, shrimp actually contains a number of other nutrients, too! Shrimp and prawns boast a robust amount of protein, with 25g of protein per 100g of meat. These are complete proteins, made up of significant amino acids needed by your body to function at optimal strength. Both prawns and shrimp carry a healthy amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, too. They also contain Vitamin B12, which is responsible for keeping your body energised throughout the day.

Did you also know that you can actually consume the prawn/shrimp shells? Especially when deep fried, the shrimp shells become crispy, so most people are able to just take a large bite and not bother about the rather chewy texture. You can also tell a fresh prawn from an old one by seeing how easily the meat slides off the shell; the fresher a prawn is, the easier the meat comes off the shell.  

So, should you go for that Udang Sambal?

I would say absolutely. Not least because I am in love with Prawn or Shrimp, and chilli. But magic happens when you put all of this together on the side of some Nasi Lemak (Rice cooked in coconut milk). All this sinful (or not?) cravings aside, I think it’s high time we start shelling down the negative perception that eating prawns or shrimp is a one way ticket to high cholesterol. We live in times where we can make milk out of almonds; is it now so hard to believe that prawns might actually be good for you?  

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