Mussels pack a mighty nutritious punch

These scrumptious mollusks possess the most impressive nutritional profile of all shellfish, especially when it comes to vitamin B-12, selenium and manganese.
These scrumptious mollusks possess the most impressive nutritional profile of all shellfish, especially when it comes to vitamin B-12, selenium and manganese.

My husband and I eat a lot of mussels throughout the year and especially during the holiday season. We like them because they’re inexpensive, quick to cook and delicious. We also appreciate how incredibly nutritious they are. According to some experts, in fact, mussels possess the most impressive nutritional profile of all shellfish.

Mussels are protein superstars, with about 10 mussels serving up 20 grams, an amount that satisfies a good chunk of average daily needs. Unlike some red meat’s protein, a mussel’s protein is lean, with much less total fat, saturated fat and (depending on the cut) up to half the calories. As a 3-oz comparison: trimmed sirloin steak, 300 calories; 10 mussels, 150 calories. An essential nutrient that powers many chemical reactions, protein helps us build up, keep up and replace tissues.

Mussels are also a great source of many vitamins and minerals, with respectable amounts of several B vitamins, vitamin C, iron and zinc. But these scrumptious mollusks really show their might when it comes to vitamin B-12, selenium and manganese. Just 10 cooked mussels provide around 300 percent of our daily needs for both vitamin B-12 and manganese, and 100 percent of our needs for selenium.

Vitamin B-12 — a “high-priority” vitamin that’s critical to good health — helps produce red blood cells and DNA, keep nerves healthy, support bone health and synthesize serotonin (a.k.a. the “happiness” chemical). Studies support that vitamin B-12 may help to boost energy, slow mental decline, prevent osteoporosis and improve moods.

The manganese that’s abundant in mussels not only plays an important role in bone health and energy production, but helps to regulate blood sugar, as well. Selenium, on the other hand, supports the thyroid gland and boosts immune system health. Both are noteworthy antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation and fight cellular damage.

Though low in fat, mussels boast an appreciable amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids: about 750 mg per 10 mussels. These special fats appear to benefit hearts by decreasing the risk of irregular heartbeats, lowering blood pressure and reducing the growth rate of plaque in arteries.

Coconut Curry Mussels

Adapted from Martha Stewart Recipes

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced, peeled fresh ginger (from a 2-inch piece)
1 can (13.5 oz) lite coconut milk
1 tablespoons red Thai curry paste
3 pounds mussels, rinsed, scrubbed and de-bearded (most come de-bearded)
2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Fresh, crusty bread (optional)

In a wide, shallow pot or sauté pan with a lid, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, one minute. Whisk in coconut milk and curry paste; bring the liquid up to a boil and immediately lower it to a lively simmer. Add mussels and stir to combine. Cover and cook until mussels open, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring once. Remove pot from heat, discard any unopened mussels, and stir in lime juice and cilantro. Serve with crusty bread.

Helpful tips

Choose fresh-smelling, live mussels with tightly closed shells. Mussels taste best the day purchased, but can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. To store, place mussels in a bowl and simply cover with a damp paper towel (never store in water). Rinse mussels under water before cooking and tap any mussels that are still open. If it closes, it’s alive; if it doesn’t, it should be tossed.

Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at avpalumbo@aol.com.

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