Octopus is not a familiar food to everyone, but it is common in some types of cuisine like Japanese, Mediterranean or Polynesian. It has many health benefits and can be prepared in many different ways, making it a valuable addition to a balanced diet.
What is an Octopus?
Octopuses are cephalopods similar to squid (also called calamari) and are considered seafood with some of the properties of fish, but with an entirely different taste and texture. The most commonly eaten part is the arms, and sometimes the mantle (head area). Small octopuses are eaten whole. Octopus is a common ingredient in sushi, as well as fish soups and pastas, and is occasionally eaten live, as well as fried, boiled, baked, grilled and so forth. Older, larger octopuses can be tough if they are not prepared properly.
The Health Benefits of Octopuses
Octopus is a low calorie, lean seafood, making it a good way to get protein in your diet without adding too much fat. There are approximately 140 calories per 3 oz. (85g) of octopus, with only 1.8g of fat. Octopus is a very good source of iron, which is a common deficiency leading to weakness, fatigue and anemia.
Octopus is also a source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and selenium. It provides several important vitamins including vitamin C, vitamin A and several B vitamins, as well as some omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is an important nutrient which may decrease the chances of heart disease, as well as cancer and depression. It also seems to boost the immune system and aid in brain development in children.
Octopus also contains taurine, which is an organic acid that acts as an antioxidant, and may protect against some of the stressful effects of exercise. Taurine is also suspected to help prevent heart disease, although there are no conclusive studies regarding this yet. Some studies have also linked it with improved blood sugar levels, however this also needs further study.
Cautions About Octopuses
Octopus keeps less well than most seafood, with a shorter shelf life, so it should only be used if it is very fresh. It is possible to contract salmonella, or other forms of food poisoning from poorly kept or prepared octopus. Handling octopus may cause a mild skin rash in some people, however this can easily be prevented with food safety gloves. Some people may be allergic to octopus, particularly those who are known to be allergic to other kinds of seafood.
Octopus contains a relatively high amount of cholesterol. High blood cholesterol levels are one of the warning signs of an increased chance of heart disease. Blood cholesterol levels are more strongly linked with trans-fats and saturated fats, of which octopus has low levels, than with dietary cholesterol. But most experts recommend moderating consumption of cholesterol as a precaution against heart disease.
Octopus is an excellent food for a diet, with low levels of fat and high levels of many valuable nutrients. It does contain cholesterol, but eating it in moderation will allow you to take advantage of its many health benefits without risk.