Clams are mild-tasting mollusks, which live in small, oval shells that are a few inches in length. You can buy them live in the shell, freshly de-shelled or canned. Clam shells that are tightly closed usually are the freshest, taste the best and carry the least risk of contamination. If you purchase clams in the shell, they can be steamed, grilled or baked at home. Clam meat is great by itself but also works well with pasta, rice and seafood chowders. Clams are a relatively affordable, low-fat addition to your diet and a good source of many vitamins and minerals.
Clams are notably high in vitamin B-12, which is needed to produce healthy red blood cells, stimulate metabolism and allow normal cognition -- particularly short-term memory. For example, 3 ounces of baked clams contain more than 1,300 percent of the recommended daily intake, or RDI, for adults. Clams are also good sources of vitamins B-1, B-2, B-3 and B-6, which are essential for producing energy from the metabolism of food. Vitamin B-3, also called niacin, is particularly beneficial for circulation, healthy skin, hormone production and possibly reducing the “bad” type of cholesterol in your blood. Vitamin B-2, or riboflavin, helps your body use folate, which greatly reduces the risk of giving birth to a baby with spinal defects.
Iron and Other Minerals
Clams are an excellent source of iron, which is needed to make hemoglobin for your blood. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to cells; a lack of iron, called anemia, reduces the amount of oxygen your cells get. Reduced cellular oxygen leads to severe fatigue, headaches and pale skin, among other symptoms. One cup of raw clams contains about 32 milligrams of iron, which is 175 percent of the RDI for adults. Clams are also a very good source of selenium, phosphorus, copper and manganese, as well as a good source of potassium, zinc and chromium. For example, 1 cup of raw clams contains 80 percent of your daily needs of selenium, which is a strong antioxidant and important for immunity.
Although not a rich source, clams contain antioxidant vitamins such as A, C and E. Clams are highest in vitamin C, and almost 50 percent of your daily vitamin C needs are found in 1 cup of raw clams. However, vitamin C is destroyed by high heat, so gently steam your clams if you are cooking them at home. Antioxidants are important for eliminating free radicals, which are notorious for damaging tissues such as blood vessels. Vitamins C and E are also essential for healthy skin.
Calories and Cholesterol
Compared to other seafood, clams are relatively low in calories. One cup has about 170 calories, mostly from protein, which contains all of the essential amino acids. Clams are very low in saturated fat, but they contain a fair bit of cholesterol, about 25 percent of your daily allotment in 1 cup. So, eat clams in moderation if you have high blood cholesterol.
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.