Can Pregnant Women Eat Calamari (Squid)? Is It Safe?

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Seafood can be a bit of a gray area in pregnancy, as it’s not as straightforward as other foods. There’s mercury to consider, and whether or not it’s been fully cooked. Calamari (Italian for ‘squid’) appears in many dishes, so I’ve investigated them here.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Calamari (Squid)? Calamari is safe for pregnant women if it’s fully cooked – which doesn’t take long. Calamari is nutritious and low in mercury. Other squid dishes are also safe if cooked, including squid ink.

In this article, I’ll break down the different ways of eating calamari and which one is best in pregnancy. The nutritional benefits of squid are also discussed here. From now on, I’ll use the term ‘calamari’, but this is interchangeable with ‘squid’, as it’s the same thing.

Is Calamari (Squid) A Shellfish?

One of the main sources of confusion among pregnant women checking calamari is that it’s not easily classified. Calamari, or squid, is not strictly a shellfish, it’s a mollusk, like Octopus.

Pregnant women are often aware that they should only eat shellfish and fish when they’re fully cooked, and are low in mercury. Calamari should be treated the same way, even though it’s not a shellfish – but it IS seafood.

raw squid rings with herbs on a cutting board

Is Calamari High in Mercury?

The FDA took measurements of mercury averages of many types of seafood, spanning over 20 years.

Squid came out with an average of 0.024 PPM (parts per million) of mercury, which means that considered to be very low (source: FDA).

Additionally, the Seafood Selector from the Environmental Defense fund also distinguishes between different types of squid, too. All three listed (market squid, Northern shortfin and US Longfin) are all given the “low” mercury rating (source: EDF).

The conclusion? Squid is not high in mercury, in fact it’s found to have a very low level. Therefore you can safely eat several portions of squid a week when you’re pregnant.

Is It Always Safe to Eat Calamari During Pregnancy?

Calamari is only safe for pregnant women to eat when it’s fully cooked, and when it’s fresh (or was fresh when it was frozen). If the calamari or squid is fully cooked, you can eat it at any stage of pregnancy, including the first trimester.

Pregnant women should avoid undercooked or raw seafood such as calamari, due to the risk of bacterial contamination (source: NHS).

Calamari has a tough texture so there are two ways of cooking it – either very briefly, or for a long time. Anything in between gives you the ‘rubbery’ texture that isn’t so pleasant.

fried calamari with lemon and lettuce

Can Pregnant Women Eat Fried Calamari?

You can safely eat fried calamari when you’re pregnant, if it’s fully cooked – and it usually is, as it’s deep-fried.

Breading or batter on calamari doesn’t make any difference to its pregnancy safety, but it does make a difference to its nutritional value. Calamari or squid on its own is a healthy, lean protein (see the nutritional benefits later in this article), but eating it deep-fried, often with a heavy dipping sauce, adds calories and fat.

You can go ahead and eat fried calamari safely, but try to keep fatty, deep-fried foods to a moderate level during pregnancy.

Note that if you do eat fried calamari it will almost always come with a dipping sauce. This is usually mayo-based, so has to be made with pasteurized eggs in order for it to be safe. For more on this, read about mayonnaise safety in pregnancy.

Other Squid Cooking Methods and Pregnancy Safety

Squid can be a delicious part of your pregnancy diet if you get a little more adventurous with it, rather than just eating deep-fried calamari rings. Tips on other cooking methods during pregnancy are:

  • Grilled calamari – calamari cooks very quickly on the grill, and it’s not fatty (which produces flare-ups and chemical compounds that you should avoid when pregnant). Calamari can be grilled safely with a foil shield, or only very briefly, as grilled foods should be minimized during pregnancy.
  • Frozen calamari – It doesn’t matter if calamari or squid is cooked from fresh or frozen, just so long as it’s fully cooked. Frozen squid is often processed on the boat, so is usually very fresh when it’s packaged. Just make sure it’s defrosted enough – in the fridge rather than at room temperature – and you’ll be good to go.
  • Whole Baby Squid – Calamari and squid doesn’t always come in large tubes or slices. You can eat the whole thing, tentacles and all – and this is pretty common in some cuisines. The whole squid is edible and safe to eat when pregnant if it’s cooked all the way through.
  • Salt and Pepper Squid – this is a popular snack in Chinese cuisine, and both whole baby squid or calamari pieces may be used. The same guidelines apply – if it’s cooked, it’s fine. The batter makes no difference, though it does add calories and fat, so try to eat salt and pepper squid in moderation during pregnancy. There’s more on Chinese food in pregnancy here.

squid ink in pasta with salmon and basil

Can Pregnant Women Eat Squid Ink? (e.g. in Pasta?)

Squid ink (sometimes called ‘cephalopod ink’) is often found in Japanese cuisine, or other dishes like pasta or risotto, where it gives a mild seafood flavor and deep black color. Cuttlefish ink is often used instead of squid ink as it has a stronger taste.

Both squid ink and cuttlefish ink are safe to eat during pregnancy. It’s usually cooked as part of a larger dish, for example, in a sauce or pasta.

Squid ink contains many minerals and amino acids, such as melanin (which gives it its dark color) (source: PubMed). However, it’s eaten in very small amounts – a little goes a long way! – so the health benefits aren’t particularly significant.

It’s safe, though, so you can happily eat a bowl of seafood risotto or similar, without worrying about whether it’s OK when you’re pregnant.

Is Calamari Good For You & Healthy in Pregnancy?

How healthy Calamari is really depends on how it’s cooked (i.e. steamed, roasted, broiled are all better than fried), but calamari and squid can make a good, healthy addition to your pregnancy diet.

On its own – without a battered, fried coating, calamari is low in fat and calories, and high in protein. It’s also a good source of vitamin B12, selenium, and zinc (source: Precision Nutrition).

Squid can be high in cholesterol, with 260mg per 100g (source: USDA). If you’re watching your cholesterol levels, then you may want to eat less calamari and choose other seafood options instead.

Unless you have been told otherwise, eating high-cholesterol foods may not increase your level of cholesterol in the blood (source: PubMed), and you can safely enjoy squid/calamari in moderation as part of a healthy pregnancy diet.

If you’d like to increase your healthy seafood and fish intake during pregnancy, you may also like: