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FISHING FOR HEALTHY CHOICES

Fish and shellfish can be very healthy whether or not you're watching your weight. They're packed with protein and don't have the high quantities of saturated fat of many other meats. But without careful planning, even seafood can pack on the calories. Here are a few key choices to help you navigate your next meal.

Clam chowder versus lobster bisque. You might think all clam chowders are equal, but the Manhattan version is tomato-based, whereas the New England kind is made with milk or cream, which makes it much more fattening. But when it comes to calories, lobster bisque, which is made with heavy cream, is the highest of all.

Oysters on the half shell versus shrimp cocktail. Both are good options and probably among your best choices. Although shrimp is high in cholesterol, it's very low in the unhealthy saturated fat, so it can still fit into a heart-healthy diet. Also, the cocktail sauce and that vinegary sauce served with oysters certainly beat the butter that comes with lobster.

Broiled halibut versus shrimp scampi. Yes, shrimp can be a low-calorie dish, but not when served with scampi sauce (830 calories for eight shrimp with pasta). "Scampi" usually describes large shrimp split and brushed with oil or butter, then sauteed with wine or sherry and lemon juice. The broiled halibut (317 calories for 8 ounces) is really the winner, but then, almost any broiled fish, including cod, sole, flounder and salmon, is great.

Crabs versus salmon. If you order crabs, you're typically getting five or six large crab legs, or about 650 calories. Not only that, but many restaurants have all-you-can-eat specials, which eliminate any kind of portion control. And don't forget that the Dijon mustard sauce (often made with mayonnaise) and other dips can add loads more calories.

Although salmon is relatively high in fat, it's the heart healthy, "good" kind, and even a large portion of grilled salmon (466 calories and 27g fat for 8 ounces) is lower in calories than the crab. Remember to tell your server you want your fish grilled dry, NOT in oil or butter. Request cooking spray instead.

Lobster roll versus fried clams versus popcorn shrimp. It's about choosing the lesser of three evils, but the lobster roll is best. As far as fried clams go, I know people who eat 20 or more at a sitting with a very high-calorie chipotle mayonnaise sauce. They end up breaking the 1,000-calorie barrier. And popcorn shrimp is also a deep-fried diet disaster.

Tuna versus catfish. Knowing that catfish has a reputation for being high in fat (the good kind), I was surprised to see tuna and catfish are very close in calories -- assuming the catfish is broiled or blackened, not fried. The tuna actually has about 20 more grams of protein than the catfish; however, the tuna can be high in mercury. Tartar sauce versus cocktail sauce. Tartar sauce is made with mayonnaise -- need I say more? Cocktail sauce is the clear winner. Keep your condiments in check; be wary of sauces made with butter or mayo; and try using lemon or malt vinegar instead.
Charles Stuart Platkin is a syndicated health, fitness and nutrition columnist. Write to info@thedietdetective.com