If you’ve ever been to a seafood restaurant, you have most likely at least seen imitation crab. Most of you will have probably eaten it at some point, maybe without even realizing!
Since seafood is, for the most part, pretty expensive, imitation crab is super popular. Why? Because it’s way cheaper than regular seafood.
That begs the question – why? While we’re questioning things, have you ever wondered whether imitation crab is suitable for a keto diet?
If you’re a seafood lover and are on a keto diet, or are about to start one, this is an important question. Can you still have imitation crab if you’re enjoying the benefits of a keto diet? What are the effects?
If you would like to find out, just keep reading! We’re going to be going through everything you need to know about imitation crab and the keto diet.
Unfortunately, the conclusion we reach might break a few seafood-loving hearts – just read to the end to find out why!
Imitation Crab – What is it?
Imitation crab goes by a few different names, such as crab sticks, seafood sticks, or imitation Krab.
While it’s widely thought to be authentic seafood, imitation crab actually contains no crab meat.
Rather than using real crab meat to make this delicious food, it’s actually made from artificial flavors to, you guessed it, imitate crab. Of course, sometimes real flavoring is used, but this often isn’t the case.
Crab meat has a delicious slightly sweet taste, with a hint of saltiness. The meat is very soft and tender, and this is imitated to a pretty good degree in imitation crab.
Imitation crab actually first debuted in Japan, in 1974. Now, however, you can find this seafood product all over the globe – it’s really that popular!
This food is typically made from shredded fish. It’s blended with other ingredients such as eggs, starch, and various finding and flavoring ingredients.
Since there’s no crab meat to be found in there, many restaurants will spell this food with a “k” instead of a “c” – so that there is no confusion for customers – for legal reasons.
Most imitation crab is made using pollock – a fish with a very mild flavor, and doesn’t look like much. You might have come across pollock in various other foods, too, such as sushi, salads, and poke bowls. It’s super versatile meat.
How is Imitation Crab Made?
Now you might be wanting a little more information on how imitation crab is made. If you’re here because you’re on a keto diet, you probably already know where this is going.
We mentioned that this food was made from shredded fish, binding ingredients and starch. Yep, you heard that right – starch – the things we all want to avoid while on keto.
We’ll be taking a closer look at the whole process and the ingredients involved right below.
Kani surimi is the name of the paste used in imitation crab. This paste is made up of ground fish meat until it reaches a texture that is gel-like.
Once they have the paste, manufacturers will add their preferred starches, flavorings, and even coloring to make it look like the real deal.
Generally, these manufacturers will try to imitate the flavor of leg meat from the Japanese spider crab, or the snow crab.
Water is added to the paste to help extend the amount and lower cost, then the starch is added. The starch is added to the paste to help thicken it up and get it more like real crab.
What starch do they use? Unfortunately, they will use starch that comes from tapioca, corn, wheat, or even potato. We’ll talk about this a little more later on.
Next, they add protein into the mix. Egg whites are added, which helps get the product all glossy and attractive. After that, sorbitol and other sugars are added to the paste.
This is so that they can mimic that sweet taste that crab meat tends to have, then other ingredients like oil are added.
This helps get the right texture and flavors, while also extending the shelf life of the imitation crab. Salt is also added to imitate that salty taste that crab meat also has.
After that, the final additives are added. Preservatives, food coloring, and anything else that’s needed is thrown in to make the finished product.
The mixture is then cooked and pressed into whatever shapes the manufacturer wants – usually long stick-like things that we’re all familiar with. This final product is then vacuum-sealed for safety, and sent out.
Nutritional Facts and Information
Now we’re getting into some interesting stuff. The nutritional information for imitation crab will be displayed below.
It’s worth pointing out that the values may vary depending on the brand of imitation crab, but these are simply average values to consider.
The numbers below are provided by the USDA Food Data Central, and will only likely focus on a particular brand.
If you want to find out the values for your particular imitation crab brand, you will need to check the manufacturer or seller’s site to find out more information.
Nutritional information for 100g of imitation crab:
- Calories (kcal) – 95
- Protein (g) – 6.62
- Total carbs (g) – 15
- Net carbs (g) – 14.5
- Fiber (g) – 0.5
- Fat (g) – 0.46
You can already see that the carbohydrate value for 100g of imitation is a lot higher than most people on keto would like.
We’ll be discussing this a little later on. At first glance, however, it is likely to be clear that this food product is not a great fit for a keto diet.
Real Crab vs Imitation Crab – What’s the Difference?
We already mentioned that imitation crab has precisely no crab meat in it. Rather, the whole point of imitation crab is to mimic real crab in every way.
The only ingredient that is considered to be “real” crab, is actually crab extract. However, not all manufacturers use this, so you can’t even say that.
If this product is used, it is simply added to the paste near the beginning of the process.
The majority of manufacturers who produce imitation crab will just use artificial flavoring to mimic the flavor, rather than adding the extract.
Nutrition-wise, there are plenty of differences between imitation crab and the real deal.
While the calories aren’t so different, the macronutrients are, unsurprisingly, very different. One big difference to note is in the protein. In 100g of real crab meat, there is around 18g of protein, which makes up a lot of the calories.
Imitation crab, on the other hand, holds less than half that amount of protein, and the majority of the calories comes from carbohydrates.
You know, the thing all keto dieters want to avoid. While real crab meat might have a subtle sweet flavor to it, it actually contains zero carbohydrates!
When you look at the macronutrients in crab meat vs imitation crab, there are a lot of differences, too. While both foods have omega-3 fatty acids, real crab meat has a lot more.
Not only that, but if you look at all the beneficial vitamins and minerals, all of them are basically destroyed in the manufacturing process of crab sticks.
Real crab meat is rich in a lot of beneficial minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, sodium, iron, potassium, and calcium. This is something you just can’t get from imitation crab.
Is it Healthy?
Having imitation crab referred to as “the hot dogs of the sea” speaks volumes. Like hot dogs, imitation crab isn’t the healthiest thing out there.
Low quality materials are used to make crab sticks, just like low quality ingredients are used for hot dogs.
Of course, this helps keep prices down, but the addition of all the additives, artificial coloring and preservatives is where the real damage is done.
It’s already known that eating a lot of processed foods are not beneficial to your health, but can cause a lot of negative side effects.
One ingredient that is often added to the surimi paste is MSG – monosodium glutamate).
It is thought that MSG can have negative side effects, including obesity, neurotoxic effects, and metabolic disorders, to name a few.
Phosphate-based additives are also commonly added to surimi paste. This is another product that is thought to have negative health effects.
So, by looking at the ingredients that are added to imitation crab, it’s easy to see that this food is not the healthiest.
Now, let’s take a look at whether imitation crab is suitable for someone who is on a keto diet. We bet you already know the answer.
Is Imitation Crab Suitable for a Keto Diet?
As you may have guessed – the answer is a resounding no. In 100g of imitation crab, you get a whopping 15g of carbohydrates, and 14.5g of net carbs.
There is only 7g of protein, and barely enough fiber and fat worth mentioning. Put simply, if you had 100g of imitation crab, you will already have had ¾ of your daily carb intake if you are following a strict keto diet.
That isn’t all, though. All the additives that are mixed with the seafood paste is not something you should be aiming to have while on a keto diet. The preservatives, flavorings, and coloring are all a no-go for keto dieters.
If you are someone who isn’t on a strict keto diet, then you can get away with having a little imitation crab, but not the whole 100g!
A number of the ingredients used to make this food product are not keto-friendly, and will get you out of ketosis.
So, while you can get away with having a little, you need to have a lot of control over yourself. It’s easy to go overboard!
So, imitation crab is not a food that is strictly keto-friendly. It has a lot of carbohydrates in a mere 100g, and has very little fat and protein.
It isn’t worth consuming 14.5g of net carbs in 100g of imitation crab. While it is a lot cheaper than the real thing, you are missing out on all the beneficial vitamins and minerals that real crab has to offer.
Not only that, but you are feeding your body a lot of unnecessary ingredients with imitation crab. No one needs all those artificial flavorings and coloring!
If you want crab, imitation crab is not the way to go, especially if you’re on a keto diet.