Can You Eat Sushi While Pregnant?
Pregnancy is an incredibly special time in a woman’s life, and many women who have waited years to conceive or even those who were surprised to see those tiny blue lines appear begin thinking about baby’s health and development rather early. Though there are many old wives’ tales about what you can and cannot eat while pregnant, there are still a handful of hard-and-fast rules many pregnant women swear by. For example, the delicious delicacy from Japan that so many Americans have come to love: sushi. Is this really something you should avoid while pregnant, despite how yummy it is? Yes, according to the many well-studied nutritionists, specialists, and more from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other leading medical authorities.
The Dangers of Eating Sushi While Pregnant
Though it is becoming increasingly common knowledge that sushi (and raw fish in general) is something to beware during pregnancy, it is still frequently googled and researched by mamas craving sushi when expecting. Many expectant mothers don’t know precisely why they should swear off sushi—only that it’s commonplace—and this lack of understanding could lead to temptation that it’s not all that bad for you. But, the cost of instant gratification could be significant. Sushi tops many medical and dietary professionals’ lists as verboten for pregnant women.
Most Sushi is Raw
One vital reason is that sushi is uncooked fish, and this raw fish version of an otherwise healthy food is more likely to contain parasites and bacteria (including listeria) that could lead to illness and potential harm for you and baby alike. Even the best sushi restaurant could be unintentionally subjecting their customers to foodborne illnesses, and this is a gamble a pregnant woman should not be willing to take. Due to operating on a weakened immune system, an ordinary bout of a stomach bug or other infection could become incredibly dangerous.
High Levels of Mercury
One of the most common and widely-known reasons that women avoid sushi while pregnant is due to the presence of mercury in some fish, particularly when it is uncooked. Mercury’s potent nature has been well researched, and is a toxic metal that can cause serious birth defects, including brain damage, blindness and deafness. Some types of fish to avoid, even if it were in a cooked roll, are ahi and yellowfin tuna, swordfish, and marlin.
Anisakis and Other Parasitic Worms
On occasion, fish such as salmon may contain small parasitic worms, such as anisakis. Though the worm can usually be killed at high temperatures, eating the good stuff raw or undercooked means you might run the risk of exposing yourself and your baby to the worms.
Infection with these worms results in a condition known as anisakidosis (formerly known as anisakiasis or anisakiasis). Symptoms of anisakiasis include:
severe abdominal pain
nausea and vomiting
Eating fish contaminated with anisakis can also cause an allergic reaction. Freezing raw wild fish kills any worms that may be present and makes it safer to eat, and is generally a good idea to help combat other bacteria as well. Aniskaosis has also been found in people eating raw or marinated anchovies. Anchovies are traditionally processed and preserved in salt and brine which does not always destroy the worms (Dr. Amos of Babymed).
Benefits of Eating Sushi While Pregnant
The health benefits of many fish are unparalleled, though. Cooked, low mercury fish are an excellent way to get some of the healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids that could aid in baby’s development, but it is important to keep a selective palate about you when reaching for certain fish. A 12 oz. portion of well-cooked fish is a great pregnancy diet staple, and is heralded for the nutritional value it brings to the table. Salmon is typically regarded as one of the best fish a woman can eat while baking a bun in the oven, but it is critical that the salmon was baked well (or grilled, or broiled…) itself. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends skipping any fish that is raw or undercooked, and instead opting for a healthy serving of flaky, firm fish that you can enjoy—knowing both the health benefits and tastiness will be plentiful.
Different Types of Sushi
When eating at a restaurant, it’s important to be cognizant of the ingredients of the dish you’re ordering. Sushi restaurants are often great about explaining the different kinds of sushi in their menus, but we’ve included a quick guide in the event you’re unable to decode the lingo.
Nigiri– A topping, usually fish, served on top of sushi rice. It is often raw and made with shellfish, fish, and other such toppings.
Sashimi– Fish or shellfish served standalone, with no rice and is often raw.
Maki– Rice and filling wrapped with seaweed, and is the popular staple of sushi—not always raw, so be sure to read the description of each sushi dish available.
Temaki– Also known as a “handroll,” these messy cones of fish and rice and other goodies are occasionally raw—double check on your menu when ordering.
Final Verdict: Is Sushi Safe to Eat During Pregnancy?
It can be rather tempting to consume things you aren’t supposed to, but pregnancy diet and safety guidelines aren’t meant to serve as things to rebel against, but also do not intend to constrict or limit you in your diet. A proper diet for an expectant mother should be filled with foods agreed upon and approved by your trusted medical professional. You are encouraged and allowed to consume well-prepared and well-cooked fish and shellfish while pregnant, as these creatures from the big blue sea provide many big health benefits—not to mention, they’re delicious. Opt for a shrimp tempura or similar cooked roll when out for Japanese cuisine with friends or family. The health risks that could come from a pregnant sushi encounter might take more of a toll than the momentary satisfaction is worth. So, despite your avid love for all things sashimi, it is best to avoid sushi while pregnant.
What to Order: Sushi Menus for Pregnant Women
All of those variations of sushi sound delicious, right? In most cases, sushi restaurants also serve chicken, beef, or pork in teriyaki or hibachi style, with all of the delicious veggies and rice your heart could desire. For the most part on the sushi side of things, though, you’d be safer to order tempura or another form of cooked fish when electing to have seafood for dinner: not only is it yummy, but you can take heart in knowing you did something positive for your baby and tummy.