Is Octopus Healthy? Nutrition, Benefits, Downsides

A dietitian explores the health benefits, downsides, and nutritional value of eating octopus.

The octopus is a type of cephalopod that lives in the ocean.

It’s well-known for having eight legs and being one of the most intelligent creatures in the sea (1, 2).

Octopus is also a culinary delicacy in coastal areas of the world. It’s a beloved food of many people in Asia-Pacific countries like Japan and the Koreas as well as in the Mediterranean, such as Italy and Spain.

If you’ve eaten octopus before or wondered what it might be like, but you’re unsure about how healthy the seafood actually is, this article is for you.

Here, we’ll take a deeper dive into the nutritional profile of octopus, including its benefits, downsides, and more.

Like many types of seafood, octopus is versatile. The most common forms of octopus used for meals are:

Octopus can be eaten raw or cooked.

The most common ways to cook octopus are:

  • grilling
  • baking
  • steaming
  • boiling
  • poaching
  • stewing
  • frying

Depending on the type of octopus you’re cooking with, and how you decide to cook it, octopus can take on completely different flavor and texture profiles.

For example, some people have a hard time eating octopus because of its chewy texture.

To achieve a less-rubbery texture, many chefs swear by using frozen octopus or by slow-poaching fresh octopus in a flavorful liquid at a low temperature for at least 90 minutes.

Dried octopus usually requires a similar amount of time for rehydrating and cooking, but you may not always have time for such a lengthy process.

In that case, canned octopus can easily be eaten right away and served plain – or you can quickly spice it up with garlic, herbs and spices, citrus juices, and similar seasonings.

SUMMARY

Fresh octopus is commonly used in meals, but frozen, dried, and canned varieties are also available. There are many different ways to cook octopus, and some people prefer to eat it raw.

Overall, octopus is a healthy source of lean protein that is low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates but high in amino acids (and thus protein), trace minerals, and micronutrients like vitamins2, 3).

Here is the nutrition profile for 3 ounces (85 grams) of octopus cooked using a moist-heat cooking method like boiling, braising, or stewing4):

  • Calories: 139
  • Carbs: 4 grams
  • Protein: 25 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Vitamin B12: 1.275% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Selenium: 139% of the DV
  • Copper: 70% of the DV
  • Iron: 45% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 32% of the DV
  • Zinc: 26% of the DV
  • Niacin: 20% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 19% of the DV
  • Sodium: 17% of the DV
  • Pantothenic acid: 15% of the DV
  • Choline: 13% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 12% of the DV
  • Potassium: 11% of the DV

Just as the preparation method you choose for octopus can alter the taste and texture of the final dish, it might also influence the food’s final nutritional value (3).

For example, a 3-ounce (45-gram) serving of dried octopus could contain as much as 1.114 mg of salt – 289% more than fresh cooked octopus (5).

What’s more, canned octopus is usually packed in oil and therefore higher in fat (6).

If octopus has been deep-fried, it will also be higher in fat and calories than when the seafood is roasted, grilled, poached, or stewed.

Nonetheless, octopus prepared any way is an incredibly rich source of many nutrients, such as vitamin B12 and selenium, which are important for bodily functions like forming red blood cells, synthesizing DNA, and combating harmful oxidation (7, 8).

Though it’s not quite as rich in unsaturated fats as fatty fish like salmon and tuna, octopus is still high in the omega-3s docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)2, 4, 9, 10).

They’re considered heart-healthy nutrients because they may help reduce inflammation and protect against heart disease (2, 4, 9, 10).

SUMMARY

Octopus is an incredibly nutritious lean source of protein. The seafood is low in calories and fat, yet it’s full of vitamins B6 and B12, selenium, copper, iron, zinc, and more.

Octopus plays a crucial role in many cultural and culinary traditions.

Not only does the seafood make for a delicious meal to many, but octopus can undoubtedly be a part of a nutritious and well-balanced diet.

Here are a few of the most impressive health benefits of octopus.

It’s a lean protein

Lean proteins are good sources of protein that remain relatively low in calories, fat, and cholesterol.

Packing more than 25 grams of protein per serving for just under 140 calories, octopus definitely fits the description of a lean protein.

Though octopus does contain a decent amount of cholesterol – about 82 mg per serving – it still contains less than squid and shrimp (4, 11, 12).

Plus, research on dietary cholesterol and heart disease has begun to shift. Contrary to what was once believed, it seems eating nutritious sources of cholesterol like eggs and seafood is less likely to raise blood cholesterol levels than eating foods like red meat that are high in saturated fat (13, 14).

In turns out that a diet high in lean seafood – even if it contains some cholesterol – may actually improve heart health rather than harm it (15, 16, 17, 18).

A rich source of healthy unsaturated fats

The healthy unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids in octopus may help prevent heart disease, but their benefits don’t stop there (9, 19, 20).

A diet rich in sources of omega-3s – like octopus and other types of fish – has also been linked with a lower risk for some cancers, protection of cognitive function, and a healthy gut microbiome (21, 22, 23, 24).

The good microbiome refers to the groups of healthy bacteria that live in our intestines. The microbiome plays a vital role in immunity, inflammation, and disease prevention.

May have antidepressant properties

Another interesting property of the omega-3s in octopus and seafood: eating more of them may reduce the symptoms of major depressive disorder.

In certain populations, research shows those who eat moderate – but not necessarily high – amounts of seafood tend to score lower on measures of depression. What’s more, it appears the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the blood is also a factor (25, 26, 27).

Though a diet rich in omega-3s from seafood has been linked to reduced depression, there is not yet enough evidence to conclude that omega-3 supplements effectively treat people already living with depression (28).

Interestingly enough, it’s not just the omega-3s in octopus that account for its potential antidepressant properties.

One study analyzed foods and their concentrations of 12 different antidepressant nutrients, including omega-3s as well as vitamin B12, selenium, iron, zinc, and more. Octopus ranked sixth on the list of top antidepressant foods (29).

SUMMARY

Octopus is a lean source of seafood that is low in calories and fat but rich in protein and other nutrients that may help support heart health, mental health, the gut microbiome, and more.

It’s evident that octopus is a nutrient-dense source of protein that has been an integral part of nutritious diets for ages.

Nonetheless, some people need to avoid octopus due to allergies. In fact, shellfish are one of the most common allergenic foods (30, 31, 3233).

Other people choose to avoid eating octopus for ethical reasons. Some are concerned about the sustainability of how octopus is caught or farmed, while others worry about the ethics of killing and eating octopus – especially since it’s believed to be an incredibly intelligent animal.

Aside from these important conversations, there are also a couple of health considerations to keep in mind if you eat octopus regularly.

Octopus is high in salt

One serving of octopus could contain as much as 25% of the DV for salt, and that’s without adding any additional salt during the cooking process (3).

For some people, this may not be much to worry about. However, for those who are salt-sensitive, it could adversely affect your blood pressure and raise your risk of heart disease (34).

Fried variations may contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and more

One common way to prepare octopus is to deep-fry it.

Though many enjoy the taste and texture, fried foods are linked to negative health outcomes, including high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, diabetes, and more (35, 36, 37, 38).

There’s a risk of mercury exposure

Like most types of seafood, there’s a chance octopus could be contaminated with heavy metals like mercury and arsenic (39, 40, 41).

Some research suggests that the metals often concentrate in the digestive glands of the sea creature, so avoiding those tissues is one way to try and limit your exposure when eating octopus (42).

Researchers have also observed polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – a class of carcinogenic pollutants – in octopus, although to varying degrees depending on where the octopuses lived.43).

Those who are particularly at risk to the effects of mercury exposure, such as pregnant and breastfeeding people, young children, and people who eat a lot of seafood, may want to use extra caution and find sources of octopus less likely to be contaminated (44, 45).

You can learn more about choosing more sustainable meat here.

SUMMARY

Overall, octopus is a nutritious food. However, it’s higher in salt than many other proteins, and there’s a chance it could be contaminated with heavy metals. To get the most nutrition from the seafood, seek sustainable sources and avoid deep-fried varieties.

Octopus is a healthy food that is extremely rich in many nutrients known to support optimal human health.

If you decide to incorporate octopus into your diet on a regular basis, keep in mind that it is higher in salt than many other types of animal protein.

Plus, it carries a risk of being contaminated with heavy metals from pollution in the ocean.

Nevertheless, when consumed in moderation using nutritious cooking methods and as part of a well-rounded diet, octopus may have benefits like reducing the risk of heart disease and symptoms of depression.

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