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Ode to the Octopus

By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach

The health/budget conscious amongst you, if you haven't tried it already, may be interested in octopus. Sure it looks a bit scary, and can be tough and chewy when it's not cooked right, but there are ways to overcome these things and for its many health benefits it's worth trying*.

Known as sea cat in the West Indies octopus is an excellent source of B12 an essential nutrient often lacking in those who eat very little animal foods. While meat, eggs and dairy are touted as good sources of B12, food from the ocean, such as octopus, prawns, mussels, and mackerel are much better. The only other food that comes close to providing the amounts found in ocean foods is beef liver, which is not to everyone's taste.

benefits of B12

Amongst its many other functions, B12 helps the body absorb folate, and the two nutrients work together to support cell division and replication. This process ensures that the 37.2 trillion cells body cells in the human body are continually being replaced.

B12 is also needed in energy production and plays a role in converting carbohydrates into glucose in the body. This effectively leads to a decrease in fatigue and lethargy in the body.
Stress heads and those prone to depression will also benefit from increased amounts of B12 as it plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy nervous system.

Curiously, while many B12 rich foods are also cholesterol rich, B12 helps to maintain a healthy digestive system and reduce the bad LDL cholesterol in the blood.

Other nutrients in octopus

The health benefits of octopus are not limited to B12 alone. Octopus is also a good source of lean protein and an excellent source of selenium, iron, copper and B6.

Selenium is an important antioxidant which works synergistically with Vitamin E. It's also important for cellular growth and ensuring a strong immune function.

Most of us recognise the importance of iron for healthy red blood cells and energy. It also assists in maintaining a healthy immune system and supports healthy brain development.

As iron is important for healthy red blood cells, so too is the trace mineral copper. Copper is also used to form many of the enzymes necessary for so many bodily functions.
Mental health is a big issue these days and not surprisingly there is increasing evidence to link mental health and diet.

Vitamin B6 works by turning tryptophan, an amino acid, into niacin and serotonin, important for mental health.

The Greeks, Italians and Spaniards have enjoyed octopus for many years, and we all know how healthy a Mediterranean diet is. We can learn from them when it comes to cooking it as well.
According to tradition Greek fisherman would bash the octopus 40 times against the rocks on the shore until it starts to foams between each blow. Today octopus is tenderised in small cement mixers but to check whether it's tender or not, the tentacles should feel limp and not bouncy (like rubber). An extra precaution to tenderise the octopus is to bash it with a meat mallet or freeze it before use.

Ask your fishmonger to clean the octopus for you otherwise the task may put you off eating it later. Paddock and ocean to plate is a fine idea but if the ordeal of cleaning it puts you off eating it there's no point in playing the hero. The most squeamish may like to remove skin and tentacles so the final product is unrecognisable but that's your call.

A final note on cooking - to char grill your BBQ or grill pan must be superhot. Cook it fast and in batches otherwise it will stew. For octopus it's a flash quick cook or a slow simmer and nothing in-between. Allowing the octopus to cool in the cooking liquid will relax it even more and then, if you want to remove the suckers, it's a very easy peel. Enjoy !

*Octopus is high in dietary cholesterol therefore for people with high levels of LDL cholesterol


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