Mussels and clams: free with a belly?

In summer they are among the most desired dishes. They are not only delicious, they also have very interesting nutritional values. By their nature, however, they can be potentially risky, especially during pregnancy. With a little attention and common sense, however, you can enjoy them.

They are certainly tasty. And in summer it is easy to “meet” them in many recipes. But there is a doubt: can mussels and clams be eaten during pregnancy? We talked about it with two experts: Giorgio Donegani, nutritionist and food technologist, and Stefania Piloni, gynaecologist at the Ginecea centre in Milan. Here are their recommendations.

An excellent nutritional reportboard

Mussels and clams belong to the family of marine molluscs, in the group of bivalves. They have an excellent nutritional report: “They represent an excellent source of protein – they contain 10/15% of proteins with a high biological value -compared to a very low intake of fats – 2-3% – and a limited caloric value”, explains Donegani. To give you an idea: a hectogram of shelled mussels brings about 80 kcal, perfect for those who have to pay attention to the balance, like future mothers.

They provide a lot of iodine, which is normally lacking in the diet, and provide good amounts of zinc, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. All minerals are essential for the health of the body. Mussels, then, are a real mine of iron, to the point that they provide almost twice as much as horse meat. This is another advantage because waiting women often have slightly lower iron values. “Pregnancy is not really a real anaemia, but a sort of “donation”. The mother gives the fetus the best iron, the food iron. The iron supplements, in fact, is more useful to the mother: the child uses much more than food, “ explains Stefania Piloni.

But be careful. Mussels and clams can be a receptacle for viruses and bacteria, especially if they come from polluted waters. “For this reason, during pregnancy, it is absolutely essential that their origin is certain and safe. And that the cooking is impeccable, with a long boiling time and the waste of those that have remained closed, the gynaecologist recommends.

The cons: there are, but just use common sense

Is it true that molluscs are difficult to digest? “It’s actually subjective, but because it’s rich in connective tissue, it can cause some digestive problems,” the expert warns. “Especially in the case of prolonged cooking, which is essential during pregnancy. It is better to take this into account for the quantities and other courses of the meal. “For example, a bowl (not full) with the classic peppered mussels, with a nice slice of bread, can be a single dish,” suggests Giorgio Donegani.

Not only that. “Mussels and clams contain a little more cholesterol than meat. In situations of normal cholesterolemia, however, even during pregnancy, they are not contraindicated,” explains Stefania Piloni. To give you an idea: a hectogram of clean mussels carries 121 mg of cholesterol, a leg of cooked turkey without skin 108. “In women with high cholesterol and risk of pregnant cholestasis, however, mussels and clams are contraindicated.

Mussels and clams are potentially dangerous organisms. They have no digestive tract and, in order to feed themselves, they capture and continuously expel the water, keeping the particles in suspension. They are real “living filters” and, inside them, may nest dangerous substances. “A mussel can filter even 5 litres of water per hour. If it is not clean, unwanted substances and microorganisms can accumulate in their organisms. This applies to all bivalve molluscs. Because of the way they eat, they can turn into real concentrates of germs and toxins. This applies in particular to those who always live in the same place. But it is also true for molluscs that, like clams, can be transported by tides to areas with different characteristics of purity and salubrity of the water”, explains Donegani. That’s why origin is more important than ever. The phases of selection and preparation should not be underestimated.

The abc to bring mussels and clams to the table

Mussels and clams are highly perishable. It is best to check their freshness directly. The shell, when the animal is still alive, must be bright and vivid. Outside the water, the valves must be perfectly closed, indicating that the animal is still alive. If at the time of purchase it is still in the water, it must react to the touch, quickly closing the valves. The smell must be that of the sea, pleasant and with a salty touch, without traces of ammonia.

Once purchased, the outer surface must be cleaned thoroughly. In many preparations, in fact, they are cooked with the shell. “It is important to remove all residues of sand and mud and free it from incrustations that could melt during cooking. For mussels, then, it is essential to eliminate the byssus, the fibrous beard attached to the shell,” Donegani recommends. The first step is a thorough washing under plenty of running water. “Once this is done, we can scrape the shells with a wire brush, removing any byssus with a sharp knife. Then we can proceed to a further rinsing, discarding the already opened specimens or with the damaged shell. “These, in fact, are lights of poor freshness and of possible contamination with pathogens or potentially toxic substances,” explains the expert.

To preserve taste and digestibility, mussels and clams are usually cooked for a very short time. However, it is impossible to do this during pregnancy. For safety, cooking in boiling water should be at least 15 minutes. “Cooking, for all molluscs, is an important hygienic guarantee. And it allows to easily identify the specimens to be discarded, that is, those which, once cooked, remain with the shell closed”, explains the gynecologist. Better to avoid, during the 9 months, the simple passage in the pan, which might not be sufficient. Absolutely banned, then, the lemon as “pass” for the raw consumption. “It is still a widespread belief, but to be dispelled. A few drops of lemon is absolutely not enough to sanitize a product that could be a receptacle of toxins, ‘attacked’ by billions of harmful germs,” warns Donegani.

Strict regulations

Finally, a reassurance: “The marketing of molluscs is governed by a strict law. For example, mussels and clams must be sold live, accompanied by a Certificate of Origin indicating the purification or harvesting plant. The date of collection and packaging’. In Italy, mussels and clams (such as oysters, which are less common in summer) are widely reared. “Depending on the area of origin, Community law does or does not provide for the need to pass through a purification centre in order to achieve adequate hygiene characteristics’, reassures the expert.

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