Crab stick nutrition facts, calories and full health analysis
Complete nutrition and health benefits analysis for Crab stick
Crab sticks have many names: seafood sticks, imitation crab meat, surimi, krab sticks or kanikama in Japanese. A crab stick despite its name doesn’t actually contain real crab meat. It is a highly processed food, made of white fish meat or surimi to imitate the texture, shape and flavor of the leg meat of a crab. This food originated in Japan in 1974 and later found popularity in Western countries, especially in the USA.
Surimi is a paste made from fish meat and in Japanese it literally means “ground fish”. White fish is a term for several species of fish, such as Atlantic cod, pollock and others. Surimi has been used in Japanese culture for centuries, mainly as a kind of seafood called kamaboko, commonly added to soups. Katsuichi Osaki, the son of the founder of a company producing kamaboko products, figured that adding red colouring to kamaboko and slicing it into a stick shape can make it resemble real crab meat, without the expensive price (1).
The most common fish used in surimi, and therefore in crab sticks, is the Alaska pollock or walleye polock. The myofibrillar proteins of the fish form a gel, and sugars like sucrose and sorbitol are added as cryoprotectants, to keep the gel from degradation in low temperatures. To improve the texture and stabilize the gel, wheat starch and egg whites are added. Vegetable oil is also used to better its texture and appearance. To achieve the taste of crab meat, natural and artificial flavourings are added. The natural flavoring is usually made from aqueous extraction of edible crab. Finally seasonings, such as monosodium glutamate, vegetable protein and mirin are added. The red coloring is achieved by adding natural dyes like carmine, caramel, paprika and annatto extract (2).
Crab sticks are commonly used in seafood salads and are the main ingredient in many types of sushi, the most popular ones being California rolls, Kani maki sushi rolls, Kimbap Korean sushi and Kanikama sushi or Nigiri.
Checkout our Crab stick nutrition infographic below
The nutrition of crab sticks is based on the main ingredient fish and the added components: sugars, starch, egg whites, vegetable oil, flavourings and seasonings.
Macronutrients and Calories
The predominant macronutrient of crab sticks are carbohydrates, consisting mainly of sugars: sucrose, glucose and fructose. The rest of the carbohydrates are made up from mostly starch and some dietary fiber.
The fish meat in crab sticks makes up the protein, which is about 8% of a crab stick’s nutrition. This protein includes all essential amino acids and is particularly rich in lysine, threonine and tryptophan. Of the non essential amino acids crab stick is high in aspartic and glutamic acids.
Imitation crab contains very little fats, however it does contain some cholesterol and trans fats. The fat composition is dominated by monounsaturated fatty acids, followed by saturated fatty acids, leaving polyunsaturated fatty acids in last place.
Crab sticks are a low calorie food, containing only 95 calories per a 100g serving.
Crab sticks contain some cardinal vitamins, being very rich in vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. It also contains moderate amounts of vitamins B1, B2, B3, vitamin E and vitamin K. However crab sticks completely lack vitamin B5 and folic acid (B9), as well as vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin D.
Crab sticks are very rich in selenium, phosphorus and magnesium. Crab sticks also contain calcium, zinc, iron, choline, potassium, copper and manganese. This food is very high in sodium.
Comparison to Crab Meat
Real crab meat is much richer in protein compared to crab sticks. It also has fewer calories, due to the fact that it contains no carbohydrates, as opposed to crab sticks that are high in both sugars and starch. Crab meat is low in fats, but still contains more of it than crab sticks, therefore has a higher level of cholesterol. However the predominant fats in crab meat are polyunsaturated fats with a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids.
As opposed to crab sticks, crab meat contains vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin B5. It is also higher in vitamins B12, B2, B2, B6 and vitamin E. However crab sticks contain higher levels of vitamin B1 and vitamin K.
Crab meat is also richer in iron, calcium, potassium, copper and zinc, whereas crab sticks are higher in magnesium and phosphorus. The sodium concentration in crab sticks is slightly lower.
Fish allergies are one of the most common allergies among adults. Surimi, even after the thorough processing, can retain the allergens found in the fish, since approximately 75% of the fish’s original protein content remains. Therefore, consuming crab sticks can pose a serious threat to people who are allergic to certain types of fish, pollock in particular (3).
The codfish that surimi is made from usually contains several allergic proteins, whereas surimi contains only a single allergic protein (4). Thus, surimi in general is less allergenic compared to the fish it is made from.
The symptoms of a crab stick allergy are the same as most food allergens cause: oral allergy syndrome, an itching, tingling or swelling feeling in the mouth, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and in some rare cases anaphylactic shock.
Crab sticks do not contain crab meat, however some added proteins may come from the aqueous extract of crabs, so for people allergic to shellfish and crabs it is better to read the label or avoid it as a whole.
In the production of crab sticks egg whites and wheat starch are sometimes added, so it is usually not gluten free. For people who are allergic to egg whites or are gluten intolerant it is best to avoid crab sticks.
Real crab meat is a much better choice for diabetics, due to the fact that imitation crab contains added carbohydrates, both starch and sugars, whereas crab meat does not contain carbohydrates at all. There are not enough studies concerning the effect of imitation crab meat on the diabetic profile.
Even though imitation crab meat has a low glycemic index, there is a possibility that some of its dietary proteins react with the pancreatic islet cells, among with other low glycemic index seafood proteins, potentially causing an immune response harming the pancreatic beta cells, leading to latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood (LADA), in people predisposed to it or with prior sensitization (5).
There is hope in future of processing and the development of surimi meat to use cryoprotectants other than sugars, such as amino acids, methylamines, carbohydrate polymers, synthetic polymers (polyethylene glycol), other proteins (bovine serum albumin) and even inorganic salts (potassium phosphate and ammonium sulfate) (6). This will, naturally, decrease the sugar concentration and consequently the glycemic index of crab sticks.
There is some limited suggestive evidence that fish in general can decrease the risk of cancer (7). Some studies linked higher fish consumption with reduced risk of developing liver, breast and colon cancers in particular (8). Most of the anticancer quality of fish is related to the omega-3 fatty acid content. Imitation crab meat contains some polyunsaturated fatty acids, however fortifying surimi meat with omega-3 fatty acids could greatly improve its anticarcinogenic abilities. Fortifying surimi based seafood products with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids without affecting the taste or texture of the meat has been proven possible (9).
Fortifying surimi based seafood products with omega-3 fatty acids, does not only improve the anticarcinogenic qualities of the products, but also improves its potential to protect against arrhythmias, reduce blood pressure and generally benefit cardiovascular and diabetic conditions (10).
Something that people with cardiovascular conditions have to keep in mind while consuming imitation crab meat is that it is high in both salt and sugar.
Imitation crab meat is cooked during its production so it is usually safe to eat for pregnant women, however it is best to ask whether there are other raw products in foods containing crab sticks, to avoid potential poisoning (11).
There is a potential risk of Listeria monocytogenes contamination of ready to eat foods, especially seafoods, however the bacteria are inactivated by thermal treatment in crab stick production (12). Use of starfish gelatin film containing vanillin in crab stick packaging with its antimicrobial qualities also decreases the risk of Listeria monocytogenes contamination (13).
Fish in general have a glycemic index close to zero, however the added carbohydrates to imitation crab makes the glycemic index of this food estimated around 50. It falls under the classification of a low glycemic index food.
The acidity of imitation crab meat, based on the Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) is 11 due to its protein and micronutrient composition, making the crab stick an acidic food.
The serving size of crab sticks is 3oz or 85g.
Imitation crab meat is already cooked during production, so it is safe to eat as it is.
If you are to steam the crab sticks, it’s better to steam it for less than 10 minutes, otherwise the meat can disintegrate into pieces.
Microwave reheating is advised against due to the textural changes that may be caused (14).
Storing, Keeping & Conservation
Freezing imitation crab meat is not recommended. It is supposed to be refrigerated at a temperature between 32°F (0°C) to 38°F (3°C). Imitation crab meat should be discarded if kept at room temperature for longer than 2 hours (14).
Vacuum-sealed, pasteurized crab sticks can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 months, if the packaging is unopened. It should be used within three days after opening.
Imitation crab sold in loose forms in trays in fish cases should be kept for three to five days. If frozen it can be kept for up to six months (15).
It is not recommended to refreeze imitation crab.
Crab stick in Diets
Imitation crab stick is not ideal for this diet, due to the carbohydrates added during processing. One serving of crab sticks contains 15g of carbohydrates. Real crab meat is a better choice, since it has no carbs.
Both imitation crab and crab meat, as most seafoods are high in salt. It is better to avoid crab sticks on a DASH diet.
During the Induction phase you can only have 20g of carbohydrates a day (16), so imitation crab meat is not advised in this phase. You can add crab sticks to your diet starting from the third Fine-tuning phase and use it throughout the Maintenance phase.
Seafoods are a staple part in a Mediterranean diet, however imitation crab is a highly processed food with added sugars, so if available, real crab meat is the correct alternative.
Imitation crab meat, being a highly processed food with additives, does not fit this diet (17).
Vegan/ Vegetarian/ Pescetarian
Even though imitation crab doesn’t contain actual crab meat, it is still made of fish, so it does not fit a vegetarian or a vegan diet. Crab sticks also often contain eggs and a natural dye called carmine that is made using insects (18). Crab sticks do suit the pescetarian diet.
Although imitation crab is rich in protein it also contains sugars. You can start eating crab sticks in moderation starting from the Consolidation phase.
As with most foods, you can eat imitation crab during the eating periods and refrain from it during the fasting periods.
Low Fat & Low Calorie
Crab sticks fit a low fat and a low calorie diet, containing only 95 calories and less than a gram of fats in a single serving.
Crab sticks contain 15g of carbohydrates per serving, which is not ideal for a low carb diet. Real crab meat is the better alternative for this.
Real crab meat may have anti inflammatory qualities due to its omega-3 fatty acid content (19), however there is not enough research on this topic when it comes to imitation crab.
Seafoods full of proteins are advised to be avoided on a BRAT diet (20), so imitation crab is not suitable for this diet.
Consumption & Production
Originating in Japan in the seventies, imitation crab quickly spread to the West and became a very popular food in the United States.
Imitation crab meat is the most common product in the world made from surimi. Crab sticks usually contain about 35 to 40 percent fish meat. However some crab sticks’ fish content can be up to 85 percent (21).
Countries that produce a significant percentage of the world’s surimi based products are Japan, the Republic of Korea, France, Spain, Italy and the USA. Thailand, China, Lithuania and India produce surimi based products mainly for export. The Russian Federation is also becoming a major market for surimi based products (21).
Eighty percent of the surimi based products in France are imitation crab sticks.
From the years 2000 to 2004 the export of imitation crab meat from South Korea dramatically decreased by double, however seafood consumption in the Republic of Korea is increasing. This may be due to depletion of near and deep sea resources (21).
Important nutritional characteristics for Crab stick
Crab stick Glycemic index (GI)
Gi values are taken from various scientific sources. GI values less than 55 are considered as low. Values above 70 are considered as high.
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NEW NUTRITION FACTS LABEL
Serving Size ______________
Crab stick nutrition infographic
Mineral coverage chart
Mineral chart - relative view
Vitamin coverage chart
Vitamin chart - relative view
Protein quality breakdown
Fat type information
Carbohydrate type breakdown
Fiber content ratio for Crab stick
All nutrients for Crab stick per 100g
|Nutrient||DV%||In TOP % of foods||Value||Comparison|
|Protein||18%||51%||7.62g||2.7 times more than Broccoli|
|Fats||1%||81%||0.46g||72.4 times less than Cheese|
|Carbs||5%||41%||15g||1.9 times less than Rice|
|Calories||5%||74%||95kcal||2 times more than Orange|
|Starch||1%||95%||3.5g||4.4 times less than Potato|
|Fructose||1%||88%||0.62g||9.5 times less than Apple|
|Sugar||0%||46%||6.25g||1.4 times less than Coca-Cola|
|Fiber||2%||56%||0.5g||4.8 times less than Orange|
|Calcium||1%||68%||13mg||9.6 times less than Milk|
|Iron||5%||81%||0.39mg||6.7 times less than Beef|
|Magnesium||10%||24%||43mg||3.3 times less than Almond|
|Phosphorus||40%||18%||282mg||1.5 times more than Chicken meat|
|Potassium||3%||85%||90mg||1.6 times less than Cucumber|
|Sodium||23%||19%||529mg||1.1 times more than White Bread|
|Zinc||3%||78%||0.33mg||19.1 times less than Beef|
|Copper||4%||88%||0.03mg||4.4 times less than Shiitake|
|Vitamin E||1%||79%||0.17mg||8.6 times less than Kiwifruit|
|Vitamin B1||3%||82%||0.03mg||8.9 times less than Pea|
|Vitamin B2||6%||73%||0.08mg||1.6 times less than Avocado|
|Vitamin B3||4%||75%||0.62mg||15.4 times less than Turkey meat|
|Vitamin B6||10%||59%||0.13mg||1.1 times more than Oat|
|Vitamin B12||24%||47%||0.57µg||1.2 times less than Pork|
|Vitamin K||0%||82%||0.4µg||254 times less than Broccoli|
|Tryptophan||0%||82%||0.08mg||4.1 times less than Chicken meat|
|Threonine||0%||79%||0.29mg||2.5 times less than Beef|
|Isoleucine||0%||84%||0.23mg||4 times less than Salmon|
|Leucine||0%||80%||0.61mg||4 times less than Tuna|
|Lysine||0%||74%||0.71mg||1.6 times more than Tofu|
|Methionine||0%||73%||0.26mg||2.7 times more than Quinoa|
|Phenylalanine||0%||84%||0.26mg||2.6 times less than Egg|
|Valine||0%||83%||0.29mg||7.1 times less than Soybean|
|Histidine||0%||82%||0.16mg||4.8 times less than Turkey meat|
|Cholesterol||7%||43%||20mg||18.7 times less than Egg|
|Trans Fat||0%||71%||0.01g||1861.3 times less than Margarine|
|Saturated Fat||1%||76%||0.22g||27.3 times less than Beef|
|Monounsaturated Fat||0%||76%||0.28g||35.6 times less than Avocado|
|Polyunsaturated fat||0%||82%||0.14g||329.9 times less than Walnut|
The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article and glycemic index text the sources for which are presented separately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact link to the food presented on this page can be found below.