Chicken and shrimp kabobs on a grill pan
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Chicken vs Shrimp: Finding the Best Protein for You

Chicken and shrimp are staples in kitchens around the world, and for good reason. Both are versatile, delicious, and widely available. But when it comes to building a healthy diet, which one reigns supreme, chicken vs shrimp? 

Well, in short, they’re both great options. As a dietitian and a woman over 50, I love both as part of a healthy diet with a focus on enough protein intake to help me maintain my muscle mass. 💪

Let’s dive into the benefits of each contender to determine which might be the champion for your well-being (and taste buds).

Lean Protein Powerhouses

Both chicken and shrimp are excellent sources of protein, a vital macronutrient for building and maintaining muscle, managing weight, and supporting a healthy metabolism. 

A 3-ounce chicken breast packs about 26 grams of protein (1), while the same size serving of shrimp delivers around 20 grams of protein (2). This protein provides all the essential amino acids your body needs to function optimally.

Champion Round 1: Protein Content

This round is a close call. Chicken boasts slightly more protein per serving. This makes it a better choice for those following high-protein diets, like athletes or individuals focused on muscle building.

Woman eating a large salad topped with grilled chicken

The Fat Factor

Chicken and shrimp differ a bit in their fat content. 

Skinless chicken breast is a lean protein source, with a gram or two of fat per serving. However, fat content can vary depending on the cut. Chicken thighs, with their darker meat, contain more fat, around 8-10 grams per serving.

Shrimp, on the other hand, is incredibly low in fat. A 3-ounce serving typically contains less than 1 gram of fat, making it a good option for those watching their fat intake or following a low-fat diet. 

Additionally, shrimp is low in saturated fat, the type most linked to an increased risk of heart disease. While it is high in dietary cholesterol (161 mg of cholesterol per serving), research indicates that dietary cholesterol won’t raise blood cholesterol in most people (3).

Champion Round 2: Fat Content

Shrimp takes the crown in this round. It has low-fat content and is particularly low in saturated fat.

Salad with added shrimp

Micronutrient Marvels

Chicken and shrimp offer an array of vitamins and minerals that contribute to overall health. Here’s a breakdown of some key micronutrients and the main differences in their nutritional value.

Chicken Nutritional Information (1)

  • Rich in B vitamins, particularly vitamin B 6 and B 12, which are essential for energy production, brain function, and red blood cell formation. B vitamins may also play a role in protecting you against heart disease (4).
  • A good source of selenium, important for thyroid function and antioxidant defense.
  • Contains iron, a mineral vital for oxygen transport and red blood cell production (especially dark meat varieties).

Shrimp Nutritional Information (5)

  • An excellent source of selenium and vitamin B12, similar to chicken. Also a great source of niacin (vitamin B3), another important B vitamin for energy metabolism and nervous system function.
  • Abundant in iodine, a crucial mineral for thyroid health and hormone regulation.
  • Rich in astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant that may protect brain health (6). Astaxanthin comes from marine algae (which shrimp eat) and gives shrimp their beautiful color (once cooked).  
  • Shrimp offer a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which protect heart and brain health.

Champion Round 3: Micronutrients

Both chicken and shrimp provide essential vitamins and minerals. Chicken offers valuable B vitamins and iron, while shrimp shines with iodine, astaxanthin, and niacin. But I’d give shrimp the edge in this category since it provides antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

Shrimp sizzling in pan

Contaminants

Shellfish, like shrimp, can be high in contaminants like heavy metals and microplastics (7, 8). While the levels are generally ok for most consumers, if you consume a lot of shellfish or have other health risks, this may be a problem for you.

Similarly, chicken can also contain heavy metals and microplastics (9, 10).

What’s a consumer to do? Research is ongoing on this topic. In the meantime, eat a varied diet to minimize exposure from one specific source. Also, try to choose the least processed version of a food (think chicken breast vs chicken nuggets).

Look for quality sources. Buy organic and free-range chicken when possible. Buy shrimp certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, BAP Certified, Marine Stewardship Council, or Naturland (11).

Champion Round 4: Contaminants

This one is a tie. Try to eat a variety of protein sources (see more on this below). Eat the least processed version of whichever protein you choose and buy from quality sources.

Family cooking dinner together

Dietary Considerations

When choosing between chicken and shrimp, consider your individual dietary needs and preferences.

Weight Management 

For those focused on weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight, shrimp’s lower fat content might be advantageous. However, as long as you’re preparing chicken without the skin, both are healthy options.

Heart Health 

Shrimp’s minimal fat content, particularly low saturated fat, and the presence of omega-3s and astaxanthin with its anti-inflammatory properties make it a heart-friendly option. Chicken can also be a good option without the skin.

Micronutrient Gaps 

If you’re looking to boost your B vitamin intake, particularly B6 and B12, chicken could be the best choice. If you have concerns about iodine deficiency or want to increase your niacin intake, shrimp is a great dietary source.

Woman pulling baked chicken out of the oven

Cooking Considerations

Both chicken and shrimp can be prepared in a variety of ways. Here are the best tips to maximize their health benefits:

Chicken:

  • Choose lean cuts like chicken breast or tenders.
  • Opt for cooking methods like baking, grilling, poaching, or steaming to minimize fat intake.
  • Remove skin before cooking for a significant fat reduction.
  • Pair with healthy carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, and colorful vegetables like bell peppers for a balanced meal.

Shrimp:

  • For the freshest shrimp, buy frozen and thaw yourself.
  • Avoid heavily breaded or fried shrimp
  • Experiment with flavorful marinades or spices to enhance taste without added fat or sodium.

The Final Verdict: It’s a Tie!

There’s no clear winner in the battle between chicken and shrimp. Both offer distinct advantages depending on your specific dietary goals, health needs, and personal preference. Both can be a good choice and a good source of lean protein.

Choose chicken for: A higher protein content, a good source of B6 and B12 vitamins, and iron, and a budget-friendly option. It’s also a popular choice for those following high-protein diets.

Choose shrimp for: A lower fat content, particularly low in saturated fat, making it a heart-healthy choice. It’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, astaxanthin, and niacin.

Ultimately, the best protein source is the one you incorporate most regularly into a balanced diet.

Woman eating yogurt with blueberries

Bonus Round: Expanding Your Protein Palette

While chicken and shrimp are fantastic options, consider exploring other protein sources too. Here are some additional contenders:

Fish: Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, crucial for heart and brain health. Lean fish varieties like cod and tilapia offer a low-fat protein option.

Want to learn about two popular varieties of fish? Check out our article: Salmon vs Halibut Nutrition: Which is Better to Eat?

Beans and Legumes: A plant-based powerhouse, beans and legumes are high in protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals. They’re budget-friendly and versatile, perfect for soups, stews, salads, and dips.

For more ideas and health info, you can also see our comparison Pinto vs Black Beans: Which is Better? 

Tofu and Tempeh: Soy-based protein sources like tofu and tempeh offer a complete protein option for vegetarians and vegans. They’re readily available, affordable, and easily absorb the flavors of your favorite marinades and sauces.

Eggs: A complete protein source packed with vitamins and minerals, eggs are a versatile and convenient breakfast option. They can also be great for lunch or dinner.

Dairy: Milk, yogurt, and cheese can all add to your daily protein intake. To learn more about the benefits of dairy, read our post on Plain Greek Yogurt vs Sour Cream: A Nutrition Comparison.

The word protein surrounded by sources of protein like chicken, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds

Additional Things to Consider

Variety is key. Include a variety of protein sources throughout the week to ensure you’re getting a complete range of essential amino acids and nutrients.

Portion control matters. Regardless of the protein source, be mindful of portion sizes to avoid exceeding your calorie needs. A typical serving of cooked chicken breast or shrimp is considered 3 ounces according to the USDA’s daily values.

By incorporating a variety of protein sources like chicken, shrimp, dairy, beans, and plant-based options into your diet, you’ll be well on your way to promoting optimal health and a balanced nutritional profile.

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