Lobster is a type of shellfish that is typically prepared by boiling or steaming. It can be eaten as a main course, enjoyed as a sandwich filler, or added to rich dishes like pasta, mashed potatoes, and eggs Benedict.

Despite its desirable reputation today, lobster was not always known as a pricey indulgence. In the 17th century, colonists in Massachusetts considered lobster shells in a home to be a sign of poverty and only fed lobster to their servants. In the 1940s, it was possible to buy a can of baked beans for 53 cents per pound and canned lobster for 11 cents per pound.

Lobster is now seen as a delicacy, in part because of the discovery that cooking the lobster live made it more appetizing, as opposed to killing it first and cooking it later.

This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of lobster and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, as well as ways to incorporate more lobster into your diet, and any potential health risks of consuming lobster.

Fast facts on lobster

  • Lobsters are a great source of selenium and also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
  • They can help protect against thyroid disease, depression, and anemia.
  • Lobster can serve as the main source of protein in a meal.
  • Defrost frozen lobster in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.

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Lobster is a powerful source of copper and selenium.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, one cup of cooked lobster weighing approximately 145 grams (g) contains:

The same portion also provides:

  • 3 percent of a person's daily vitamin A needs
  • 9 percent of daily calcium
  • 3 percent of daily iron

Lobster is a rich source of copper and selenium and also contains zinc, phosphorus, vitamin B12, magnesium, vitamin E, and a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

It contains cholesterol. However, recent studies have suggested that not all cholesterol content in foods is harmful to the body and that saturated fat intake is more directly related to an increase in harmful cholesterol levels. Polyunsaturated fats can help reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of stroke and heart disease.

While its overall fat content is high, lobster is not a significant source of saturated fat.

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Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce cholesterol.

Many studies have suggested that consuming more fish and shellfish decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease while promoting healthy cholesterol levels.

Fish and shellfish, such as lobster, are especially important for providing omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in very few foods.

A three-ounce (oz) portion of wild spiny lobster is estimated to provide 200 to 500 milligrams (mg) of omega-3. The more common northern lobster provides 200 mg for the same portion size.

Although the fatty acid content in lobster is not the highest among fish and shellfish, it is still a considerable source of these important nutrients.

Thyroid disease

Selenium has demonstrated qualities that make it a necessary component of healthy thyroid function. It functions as an antioxidant and also helps the thyroid absorb and metabolize hormones.

A meta-analysis has shown that those with thyroid disease who are selenium-deficient experience noted benefits when increasing their selenium intake, including improved general wellbeing, enhanced mood, and improved thyroid function. Lobster is a good source of selenium.

Mental health benefits

According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to decrease aggression, impulsivity, and depression in adults.

Selenium deficiency in children is also a possible environmental factor of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Making sure that a child consumes enough selenium can help reduce the risk of ADHD.

Anemia

Copper works with iron to form red blood cells. Anemia occurs when you do not have enough red blood cells or the red blood cells do not function properly. It can also be a symptom of copper deficiency.

Consuming adequate copper will benefit people with all forms of anemia. Lobster has one of the highest copper contents of any food.

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Lobster can be added to pasta dishes.

While lobster may seem like an expensive, decadent treat, eating live-cooked lobsters is not the only way to include this lean, delicious seafood in your diet.

Here are some quick tips for eating lobster.

  • Use lobster as your main protein source.
  • Add lobster to pasta or rice dishes.
  • Mince lobster to top salads.
  • Make lobster patties or burgers.

Avoid drenching your lobster with cheap butter, which is the type served at many seafood restaurants. Instead, choose a high-quality, grass-fed butter and use sparingly. Squeeze a lemon wedge over your lobster for a burst of flavor.

You can also try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:

Shellfish are a common food allergen. Avoid lobster if you have a history of shellfish allergy.

Lobster can contain a moderate level of mercury and should be consumed six times or less per month. In particular, women should restrict their intake of potentially high-mercury foods if they become pregnant.

To minimize the risk of food-borne illness, buy properly refrigerated, fresh lobster at 40º Fahrenheit (F) or below. Pick up lobster at the end of your shopping trip to minimize the time it is exposed to warmer temperatures. If the lobster smells overly "fishy," it should be discarded.

When buying frozen lobster, be sure to defrost in the refrigerator, not on the counter or in the sink, so there is no opportunity for bacteria growth. Lobster should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145º F.

It is important to note that the total diet or overall eating pattern is the most important factor for disease prevention and healthy function. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the gateway to good health.