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.)
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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:
- Orange roughy
- Tuna (Ahi)
Mid to High in Mercury:
- 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!
- US Environmental Protection Agency https://www.epa.gov/mercury
- American Pregnancy Association, Mercury Levels in Fish(https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/mercury-levels-in-fish/)
- Mayo Clinic, Pregnancy and Fish, What’s Safe to Eat? (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/art-20044185)
- Nutra Ingredients, Low selenium Associated with Pregnancy Complications, Web Article (https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2003/12/17/Low-selenium-associated-with-pregnancy-complications)