Whether you like them boiled, fried or in a stew, crawfish are a Louisiana favorite. And for the next few months, crawfish can be found on dinner tables and in backyard boils across the state.
Some common myths surround crawfish, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.
The first is that crawfish are high in fat and cholesterol.
“Crawfish actually are low in fat, saturated fat and trans fat,” Reames says. “Three ounces of cooked crawfish contain 116 milligrams of cholesterol, about a third of the maximum daily amount recommended by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association.”
The bright yellow to orange crawfish “fat” squeezed from the heads and sticking to the tail meat is not fat in the usual sense, she says. It actually is an organ in the head called the hepatopancreas that functions much like the liver in other animals.
“The pure fat content of this material is probably 30 percent. But as packaged for use in cooking, it may be closer to 10 percent,” Reames says. “On the other hand, cholesterol content of the pure head “fat” is high – more than 500 milligrams per 100 grams or 3.5 ounces.”
Reames says the second myth is that crawfish don’t fit in a heart-healthy eating plan.
High intakes of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol may raise unhealthy blood lipids and increase heart disease risk, she says. But because crawfish are low in fat, saturated fat, trans fat and calories and are high in protein and minerals, they can be included in the diet of anyone who is concerned about cholesterol, fat or calories.
Although shellfish – shrimp, crabs and crawfish – tend to be higher in cholesterol than fish, poultry and meat, a 3-ounce serving of farm-raised crawfish cooked with moist heat provides 116 milligrams cholesterol.
“Crawfish fat is mostly unsaturated and contains a high proportion of omega-3 fatty acids that seem to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke,” the nutritionist says. “It’s important to remember, however, that frying or preparing crawfish in rich sauces adds extra calories and fat.”
Another crawfish myth says a crawfish with a straight tail on a plate of cooked crawfish means it was dead before cooking.
Reames says studies at the LSU AgCenter have shown that a crawfish with a straight tail after boiling may or may not have been dead before to cooking and is not necessarily spoiled. Sometimes crowded conditions in the boiling pot will prevent the tail of a live crawfish from curling.
“So the bottom line on straight and curled tails is that a straight tail doesn’t mean the crawfish was dead when it went into the pot and a curled tail doesn’t mean it was alive,” Reames says. “It’s important to follow recommended food safety guidelines to keep food safe to eat.”
Cook shellfish following directions or recipes which ensure that shellfish reach the recommended internal temperature of 145 degrees, she says.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service says correctly cooked shellfish “Should turn red, and flesh should become pearly opaque.”
“Be sure to refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of serving or one hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees,” Reames says. “You can keep leftovers in the refrigerator for three to four days and frozen for three months.”
“If eating boiled crawfish makes you feel bloated and you retain too much fluid, just don’t make them too salty,” Reames says.
Crawfish are good for you, she adds. But as with everything, too much of a good thing is not good. Too much spicy, salted, boiled crawfish and all the accompaniments – corn, potatoes and onions – can lead to sodium overload and edema – excess body fluid.
“Crawfish, corn, potatoes and onions are naturally low in sodium, but their sodium content increases after boiling in salted water, the nutritionist says. “Commercial crawfish production plants do not use salt or spices in the cooking water.”
Salt, which contains sodium, is important in helping the body maintain normal cell function and a proper fluid balance. Too much salt, though, can lead to too much sodium in the blood, causing water retention and uncomfortable swelling of the hands and feet and sometimes the abdomen.
“For healthy people, this is a temporary condition, and the fluid will be excreted,” Reames says. “In addition, any weight gain associated with the excess fluid accumulation – water weight – will disappear with fluid loss.”
She warns, however, that a serious problem related to too much salt is high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease and strokes. Approximately one-third of people with high blood pressure in the United States are especially salt-sensitive.
While enjoying crawfish, be sure to munch on the fresh vegetable appetizers and follow the meal with fruit for dessert, Reames suggests. “Fruits and veggies are high in potassium and help blunt the effects of salt on blood pressure and may reduce the risk of kidney stones.”
Crawfish are an excellent source of high-quality protein and low in calories, fat and saturated fat. They also are a good source of vitamin B12, niacin, iron, copper and selenium.
“Crawfish are easy to prepare, and they taste great,” Reames says.
Additional information about healthy eating is available from the LSU AgCenter office in your parish.