Love the calamari but not the cholesterol that comes with it? That’s the dilemma for many people who enjoy fried squid.

Squid is part of the same family as oysters, scallops, and octopus. It’s often served fried, which is known as calamari, and the total fat content tends to be very high due to the oil used in the frying process. Whether or not it’s high in saturated or trans fats depends on the type of oil chosen for frying. Served alone, though, squid can be quite healthful due to its low amounts of saturated fat.

Is squid a healthy food?

Animal products are the only dietary sources of cholesterol. Unlike some other animal products, squid is low in saturated fat. Saturated fat and trans fat are typically cautioned against for those with high cholesterol by health professionals. When squid is fried and made into calamari, its total fat and possibly its saturated fat content goes up. In essence, what is otherwise a relatively healthy food can be made quite unhealthy.

A 3-ounce serving of uncooked squid contains around 198 milligrams of cholesterol and 13.2 grams of protein along with 0.3 grams of total saturated fat. It also contains healthy fats: 0.09 grams of monounsaturated fat, and 0.4 grams of polyunsaturated fat.

The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 5-6 percent of your total calories from saturated fat per day if your aim is to lower your “bad” cholesterol levels, called low-density lipoprotein (LDL). On a 2,000-calorie diet, this equals 11-13 grams of saturated fat. They also advise reducing or avoiding trans fats. The FDA has determined that trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) are not Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), and are currently making an effort to have food manufacturers fully remove PHOs from food.

It’s recommended to consume more unsaturated fats including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These fats can help raise your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol. HDL can help flush out the bad LDL.

Squid supplements available

To truly wring the goodness out of calamari, squid oil is also available as a nutritional supplement. It’s said to be more sustainable than other fish oils, because it’s made from the byproduct of food-grade squid and is not directly farmed.

In recent years, calamari oil has gained a lot of positive media attention for its omega-3 fatty acids. Many people take omega-3 supplements or turn to eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids — such as salmon — because of the cardiovascular benefits, which include their ability to raise HDL levels.

Cooking with squid

Here are a few recipes that are all about squid, but don’t require you to fry it!

Broiled calamari with lemon and parsley

This recipe makes use of lemon juice and fresh seasonings. Broiling your calamari with just a dab of olive oil keeps it delicious while also low on saturated fat.

Gluten-free baked calamari

Is this a dream? Foodies with gluten intolerances will love this recipe for happy hour favorite calamari. Baking, rather than frying, keeps it heart-healthy, and the breadcrumbs are gluten-free. Get the recipe!

Faux-fried calamari

Want the feel and appearance of fried calamari without all of the unhealthy fat? This alternative to traditional fried calamari incorporates Panko breadcrumbs into the crust. Then the squid is baked, which is a healthier cooking method than frying.

Oven-roasted calamari

Roast the squid and spice it up with paprika or Middle Eastern spices like za’atar! The squid will expand and puff up as they cook, resulting in calamari that’s both juicy and chewy. Get the recipe!