Fish and seafood are one of the areas that pregnant women have to query often, because some sea creatures are difficult to classify. Octopus is gaining popularity as a nutritious, high-protein food so unsurprisingly, pregnant women want to know if they can safely eat it.
Can pregnant women eat Octopus? Octopus is safe for pregnant women to eat if it’s fully cooked, usually by boiling, grilling or baking. Octopus should not be eaten in dishes where it is raw or only marinated, or when it’s undercooked.
There are numerous ways of cooking and serving octopus, so I’m detailing some of them here in this article, including when you should avoid eating octopus in pregnancy.
Is Octopus a Shellfish?
The octopus is a mollusk in the cephalopod family, so it is often classed generically as ‘shellfish’ (source: Encyclopedia Brittanica), even though it doesn’t have a shell. Instead, the octopus has an inner ‘beak’, as squid do.
In food and cooking (and for pregnancy safety), an octopus can be treated the same way as most shellfish, in that it needs to be fully cooked to make it safe for pregnant women to eat.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Cooked Octopus?
Octopus is safe for pregnant women if it’s fully cooked before being served. Even it’s fully cooked and served cold, it’s still safe if it’s been prepared and stored properly.
Octopus is also safe for pregnant women if it’s cooked with other food in a dish like seafood stew or paella. Some examples of cooked octopus dishes that are OK in pregnancy are listed below:
This is one of the most popular ways of serving octopus, particularly in Greece and Spain. Grilling octopus is usually a tasty way of making sure the octopus is fully cooked.
If you’re not sure if the octopus is done all the way through – cut the thickest part in half and check that the inside is hot and cooked all the way through. Usually, grilled octopus is safe for pregnant women to eat.
Boiled or Baked Octopus
Octopus is often boiled before being cooked again in a different method, to try and tenderize it as it often has a chewy texture. Boiled Octopus is safe for pregnant women to eat if it’s fully cooked. Bear in mind that some large octopuses can take longer than you might think to cook; up to an hour in some cases.
If you’re preparing an octopus yourself, test it by inserting a sharp knife, skewer or fork into the thickest part of the octopus (usually the top of the tentacle). If it’s tender all the way through, then it’s cooked.
Whole Baby Octopus
This is a delicacy served in many European countries and beyond. Similar to squid, whole baby octopuses can be boiled, grilled or fried. So long as they have been prepared properly with the insides removed from the head, then they are safe to eat when fully cooked.
Fried Octopus Balls (Takoyaki)
This is a popular Japanese appetizer or snack food. The pieces of octopus in takoyaki are fully cooked as the balls are deep-fried, so they’re safe for pregnant women.
However, takoyaki is often served with a sauce, sometimes a mayonnaise-based one, so check if the mayonnaise is made with pasteurized eggs before tucking in (for more on mayo, see my article on when mayonnaise is safe to eat in pregnancy).
Octopus Dishes That Might Be Unsafe For Pregnant Women
Since octopus can be cooked in so many ways, there are a few octopus dishes that may be unsafe for pregnant women to eat, depending on how it’s prepared. Here are a few examples:
Octopus that is fully cooked, then served cold in a salad should be safe for pregnant women to eat if it’s been stored properly. This is normally fine, however, bear in mind that if you’re eating out in a restaurant or similar, you should be wary of pre-made salads.
Many types of pre-bagged or pre-cut salads are more susceptible to listeria contamination than those that are freshly prepared (source: Journal of Food Protection). If you want to eat octopus salad, then it’s better prepared at home, where you can ensure that you’ve washed all the salad veg thoroughly yourself.
Popular in Italy, Greece and other Mediterranean countries, octopus carpaccio is thin slivers of dressed octopus, usually served cold. Carpaccio is often a raw dish, however, this varies when it comes to octopus.
Very often, the octopus will be boiled before it’s sliced for carpaccio, though sometimes it may be served raw. This should be checked because raw octopus is unsafe for pregnant women to eat due to the potential presence of harmful bacteria (sources: APA, NHS). If the carpaccio is made from boiled (cooked) octopus then it should be safe to eat.
Marinated or Pickled Octopus
Like Carpaccio, this is common in the Mediterranean as an antipasto or appetizer. Very often the octopus is cooked by boiling before being marinated, to improve the texture. However, some traditional recipes still call for the octopus (whether whole baby ones or pieces) to be raw in the marinade.
Check with the restaurant or person who cooked it – if the octopus is raw, then avoid it. If it was cooked before being put in the marinade, then it should be safe to eat.
The presence of vinegar and other common marinade ingredients do have slight anti-bacterial properties (source: PubMed), but not enough to make raw octopus safe enough for pregnant women to eat.
Octopus Sashimi is popular in Japanese cuisine, and like carpaccio and marinated octopus, it varies in its preparation. Octopus sashimi may have been boiled briefly first to cook it, in which case it’s OK to eat if you’re pregnant.
However, if the octopus is served raw (or even alive, in some cases if you’re eating it in Japan) then it should be avoided by pregnant women. If you’re a Japanese food fan I covered many dishes in this article on eating out, too.
What is the Mercury Level of Octopus?
Octopus is caught all over the world, so it’s hard to pin down an exact mercury level in octopus as it depends on where it’s been harvested from, and the size of the octopus.
However, the American Pregnancy Association list octopus as having a low mercury level. This refers to sushi, yet there is no reason to believe the mercury level is any different in cooked octopus that is prepared any other way.
The Environmental Defense Fund also list octopus as having a ‘moderate’ amount of mercury (source: EDF). Given these two sources, and in the absence of any scientific tests, octopus can be presumed to be in the low to moderate mercury category. Therefore it can be eaten safely by pregnant women.
The APA suggests that two 6oz servings of octopus per week are OK in pregnancy. This is about 170g, or a quarter of an average-sized octopus. One or two tentacles are around one portion, depending on the size of the octopus.
Is Octopus Good For Pregnant Women?
Octopus is an excellent source of lean protein. It’s also high in vitamin B12 (cobalamin) which is important in pregnancy. It’s also high in iron, potassium, and selenium, and is a good source of vitamin B6 and copper (source: Precision Nutrition).
Octopus can be high in cholesterol, although recent scientific evidence has found that dietary cholesterol doesn’t necessarily affect blood cholesterol levels (source: PubMed).
However, some people respond differently to cholesterol (known as ‘super responders’) so if your doctor or healthcare provider has advised you to avoid high-cholesterol foods, then you may wish to avoid octopus.
Since most people can eat food containing cholesterol without increasing their blood levels of cholesterol (source: PubMed), pregnant women can safely eat a couple of portions of octopus a week as part of a healthy pregnancy diet.