Clams are low in saturated fat and calories, and they supply a good dose of protein and iron, two nutrients growing children need on a daily basis. Many parents tend to shy away from serving their children seafood, including clams, because of the dangers of mercury and food poisoning. However, when cooked and served properly, clams can be a nutritious and low-mercury addition to your child's diet from the age of about 9 months, according to William Sears, a well-known pediatrician and author of "The Baby Book."
A 3.5-ounce serving of clams contains just 74 calories and less than 1 gram of fat. When your child eats this portion of clams, she'll get about 13 grams of protein, a nutrient that supports muscle growth and development. The same serving of clams supplies 24 micrograms of selenium, which is more than the 20 micrograms she needs each day. Selenium promotes cellular health and boosts your child's immune system, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Exposure to high levels of mercury can damage your child's developing nervous system, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, the EPA recommends that children eat fish and shellfish low in mercury so they reap the nutritional benefits that seafood has to offer without absorbing too much mercury. A serving of clams has a negligible 0.009 parts per million of mercury, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports. That means that your child can safely consume properly prepared clams without a risk of consuming high levels of mercury.
If seafood or shellfish allergies run in your family, ask your child's pediatrician if serving him clams is safe, even if he's eaten them before. According to KidsHealth.org, a shellfish allergy can develop at any time. Symptoms include wheezing, skin rash, hives, stomachache, vomiting, diarrhea and swelling. A life-threatening symptom is anaphylaxis, which can lead to trouble breathing and loss of consciousness. If your child develops any of these symptoms after eating clams, seek medical attention immediately. If your child's pediatrician determines that he does have a shellfish allergy, it isn't safe for him to eat clams in the future.
Your child should never eat undercooked clams because it increases the risk of food poisoning. Fully cooking clams eliminates some forms of bacteria that can lead to food poisoning; however, clams can also be contaminated with bacteria that isn't destroyed during the cooking process. According to the National Institutes of Health's MedlinePlus website, clams can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning, which leads to numbness, tingling and temporary paralysis. Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning causes vomiting, diarrhea, numbness, tingling, headache and dizziness, and amnesic shellfish poisoning, which is rare, causes vomiting, diarrhea and short-term memory loss. Reduce your child's risk significantly by avoiding fresh clams during May through August and by only purchasing clams that were harvested in areas that don't experience a red tide, a phenomenon that washes contaminated algae toward shore, which then contaminates the sea life around it.
- NOAA FishWatch.gov: Ocean Quahog
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
- KidsHealth: Shellfish Allergy
- Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference: Are Clams Safe to Eat?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Food Poisoning
- MedlinePlus: Poisoning, Fish and Shellfish
- National Institutes of Health: Selenium
- The Baby Book; William Sears, et al.
- Zedcor Wholly Owned/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images