Safe Seafood While Pregnant: Good & Bad Fish Options

You are what you eat. But how does this change when you’re pregnant? We may be happily eating a balanced, nutritious diet (or maybe not) but the moment we become pregnant, we become paranoid about every morsel of food that enters our mouths (another similarity to powerlifters?).

Things as innocent as cheese are called into question. And oftentimes, the advice is conflicting, and you may not know where to stand. This is doubly true if you’re into real food, ancestral nutrition, or consider yourself to be over on the crunchy side of the health spectrum.

Case in point: Seafood.

Is seafood safe while pregnant?

Some may say that it should be off limits while you’re pregnant. Some say say it’s no big deal. But the truth is, there are many options for safe seafood while pregnant. The key is to avoid some offenders (we’ll discuss later) and rotate the good options.

Benefits of eating seafood while pregnant

No doubt about it, seafood is some of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet.

Protein & Iron: Seafood is full of protein, of course, but also iron. Both of these are incredibly important in pregnancy, where anemia and swelling are common. To prevent anemia, you need around 25 milligrams of iron a day while pregnant, up from the previous recommendation of 18 milligrams. You also need around 70-80 grams of protein to help support yourself and your baby during pregnancy. Higher levels of protein can also help with edema. For these reasons, fish consumption is encouraged while pregnant by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Trace Minerals: Seafood is also high in iodine, selenium and zinc. These nutrients support mama’s endocrine system and are crucial for baby’s growth and development. Unfortunately, our typical American diets aren’t rich in iodine, selenium and zinc and deficiencies are quite common. How many of you eat Brazil nuts, seaweed and oysters regularly? That’s why seafood can play such a critical role in a pregnant mama’s diet.

Omega 3’s: Most importantly, seafood is high in the very valuable omega-3 fatty acids. These long-chained polyunsaturated acids are essential nutrients for baby’s health and development, and yet, they are not created by the human body. The only way we can get these valuable fats is through food. Our American food supply is greatly deficient in omega 3’s, which is why seafood is so important during pregnancy and why I also recommend cod liver oil. The two most beneficial omega-3s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

According to the American Pregnancy Association: “EPA supports the heart, immune system, and inflammatory response, while DHA supports the brain, eyes, and central nervous system, which is why it is uniquely important for pregnant and lactating women.”

Research shows that pregnant women supplementing EPA and DHA has a positive effect on the visual and neurological development of the child, while reducing his/her risk of developing allergies.

Omega-3 fatty acids have also reduce the risk of pre-term labor, pre-eclampsia, and may increase birth weight in the child. Omega-3 deficiency also is tied to postpartum depression so it’s important for mama to keep her reserves up.

No doubt about it, the benefits of eating seafood while pregnant far outweighs the risks involved. You just need to pick the right safe seafood while pregnant (and eat the right amounts.)

Safe seafood while pregnant

When choosing seafood to eat during pregnancy, this list is a good choice. These fish are very high in important nutrients and are low in mercury.

  • Salmon: A fantastic and tasty source of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Anchovies: Very economical and packed with healthy omega-3s
  • Herring: One of the highest concentrations of DHA and EPA of any seafood
  • Sardines: A top source of calcium, inexpensive and full of Omega 3’s
  • Trout: A top source of Vitamin B12
  • Atlantic mackerel: Rich in vitamin B6, selenium, and vitamin B12
  • Oysters (cooked): Highest level of zinc of any food, they are also packed with Omega 3’s.

There are many more highly nutritious seafood options with low mercury levels that can be found here.

How much seafood can a pregnant women eat?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces (340 grams) of seafood a week. That’s a good two-to-three servings of seafood over the course of seven days.

It’s a good idea to vary the amount of seafood you eat while pregnant to just one serving of any type of fish in a week. For example, a healthy week of seafood while pregnant may be 4oz of salmon on Monday, 4oz of trout on Wednesday, and 4oz of albacore tuna on Saturday.

Also, when possible remove the skin and always cook the fish thoroughly, which will reduce some environmental pollutants and risk for parasites.

Seafood to avoid during pregnancy

Now that we’ve talked about the benefits and listed some safe seafood while pregnant, let’s talk about some of the unsafe seafood choices. Mercury is an element that can collect in bodies of water, like oceans and lakes. In these places, mercury turns into methylmercury, a neurotoxin which we want to avoid in high quantities. For adults, methylmercury can cause problems in the nervous, digestive, neurological and immune systems. But methylmercury is especially dangerous for children in utero.

Children exposed to high levels of mercury in the womb have been shown to suffer from impaired brain function, compromised neurological development, cognitive thinking, memory, and other physical and mental delays.

Generally speaking, larger, predatory fish contain high levels of methylmercury so we want to avoid the following seafood while pregnant:

Highest in Mercury:

  • Marlin
  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • Orange roughy
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna (Ahi)
  • Tilefish

Mid to High in Mercury:

  • Bluefish
  • Grouper
  • Sea Bass
  • Tuna (Canned Albacore*, Yellowfin)

* Even canned albacore tuna, which is a popular and affordable option, has been shown to have moderate levels of mercury. A pregnant mother should moderate consumption of canned or yellowfin tuna to around 6 ounces or less per week. If you want to be cautious, then avoid ahi tuna completely.

By avoiding or significantly reducing these high and mid-level fish, we can still gain the benefits and enjoy the other sources of safe seafood while pregnant.

What about sushi?

Due to the risk of food poisoning, raw seafood consumption during pregnancy is not recommended by the American Pregnancy Association. In fact, most healthcare providers and natural healthcare associations would agree with this recommendation.

Raw shellfish such as oysters and clams can potentially carry the hepatitis A virus. Only eat cooked shellfish when you are pregnant.

Having said all this, I did occasionally eat sushi while pregnant. I found I craved it at times and decided to trust my body. However, I only ate sushi from places where I knew the source of their fish and trusted their high quality standards. If you do decide to eat sushi, I would encourage you to do the same.

How about you?

Did you eat seafood while pregnant? Limit consumption or not worry at all? Share with us in the comments below!

References

US Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov/mercury/effects.htm
American Pregnancy Association, Mercury Levels in Fish(http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/mercury-levels-in-fish/)
DHA Baby, DHA & Pregnancy Fact Sheet (http://www.dhababy.com/pregnancy/dhapregnancyfactsheet.aspx)
Eat Right, Seafood Do’s and Don’ts While Pregnant(http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442469725)
Kid Safe Seafood, Web Article (http://www.kidsafeseafood.org/overview-bestchoices/)
Mayo Clinic, Pregnancy and Fish, What’s Safe to Eat? (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-and-fish/art-20044185)
Nutra Ingredients, Low selenium Associated with Pregnancy Complications, Web Article (http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Low-selenium-associated-with-pregnancy-complications)

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16 Comments

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  1. Can I have canned oysters?

  2. It’s hard to get fresh fish in my town. Is it okay to eat sardines from can packaging?

    • Absolutely!

  3. Hi

    Does that mean I can only have cooked oysters and not raw? I’m confused by the article as t says its safe first and then it says it can give you hepatitis A?

    • Only cooked oysters are safe during pregnancy. Raw shellfish such as oysters and clams may be living in water contaminated with the hepatitis A virus. When eaten raw, these shellfish can potentially pass the virus on to people.

  4. I am freaking out because I ate 8oz of lobster 2 weeks in a row . There’s a lot of conflict over lobster . Do you think I’ve done any harm?

    • I don’t think that amount should make you worry too much, just stay away from it from now on to be safe.

  5. I live in the Philippines as a missionary, am training as a midwife, and I am also 7 1/2 months pregnant! The women we see in the birthing home consistently strong and healthy membranes, and we are fairly positive that this is due in part to their high-fish diets! I have been craving fish and potatoes for months.. My poor husband is such a trooper. We eat it many times per week! I feel my best by far pregnancy-wise when I eat much more fish than is conventionally recommended. Also.. Though I have received quite a few confused/concerned looks for it, sushi is absolutely on the menu any chance I can get it. So, take that for what it’s worth! I say, trust your body!

  6. Does anyone know the risks of eating vegetarian sushi? I love sushi but I haven’t been able to find any information that distinguishes the risks of eating veg vs. fish sushi while pregnant. Is cross-contamincation a concern? Any resources on this would be much appreciated.

  7. I ate sardines almost everyday while pregnant. Never had any problems. I have no idea if it’s related but my kid’s head has always been in the 90%+ percentile.

  8. yep. I craved it. Ate it frequently. I ate raw oysters a couple times as well. I pretty much ignored all the “pregnancy food rules.” It may have been foolhardy on my part, but I’m pretty convinced the risks are just overblown.

  9. I’ve switched to skipjack tuna since the nuclear disaster in Japan (large tuna migrate across the ocean several times during their lifespan and have the potential for exposure). Skipjack tuna are smaller than albacore tuna, so they also have lower mercury levels. You can find skipjack tuna in Trader Joe’s so it can be an easy switch to make.

  10. I lived in Japan for the first half of my pregnancy before moving back to the states and ate sushi while there…in Japan it’s ok for pregnant women to eat sushi while pregnant, plus Japan has very, very high quality and cleanliness standards. When I moved back to the states I only had sushi once, but only at a restaurant where I actually could see them make it and I knew there were clean practices going on….all in all, I think sushi while pregnant is fine, just make sure it’s a restaurant with high quality and cleanliness standards.

  11. Just finished my first trimester and oddly enough, sushi was like the only source of protein I could stand for at least a month. Like you said, I only ate it from one of the two places that I had been frequenting for years. I find pregnant people eating sushi makes most people highly uncomfortable, so I probably won’t be able to get it myself once I start showing more noticeably.

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