Eating when you are pregnant can be a tricky situation. What you want and what you can have don’t always jive. Menu choices can become a bit complicated, particularly when it comes to fish and seafood. While we want you to get the good stuff fish has (think Omega-3s, protein, and vitamins), we don’t want you to take in too much mercury. For those of us who are sushi addicts or fish fanatics, you may have to modify what you eat and how often you eat it to make it ok during pregnancy. Here’s how to modify the menu to make fish, sushi, and seafood acceptable during pregnancy.
Simply stated, mercury is not a mother-to-be’s best friend. While you may be close to it after or before pregnancy, during pregnancy (and while breastfeeding), you need to put your relationship on hold. The reason for this temporary breakup is the potential negative impact high levels of mercury can have on your growing baby. Mercury turns into methylmercury, which is a toxin to the developing brain/neurologic system of a fetus as well as the future vision and hearing of a child.
While you can be exposed to mercury in many ways, it is most frequently found in fish, particularly large fish. For this reason, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish are totally off limits during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Fish that is low in mercury (think shrimp, wild salmon, trout, catfish, cod, tilapia, canned light tuna) should be on your table at least once a week. In general, about 8 to 12 ounces (2–3 servings) of low mercury fish/week is recommended. White albacore tuna can be added to the list above, but consumption should be limited to 6 ounces a week.
Fish caught in local waters are a slippery situation. You can check with your state or local health and environmental agencies to find out what the mercury content is, but if there is no answer, you should probably limit your intake to 6 ounces/week.
A discussion about seafood would not be complete without the temperature situation (a.k.a. raw vs. cooked). And while the CDC and the FDA say no to raw fish, this is one area in which we have set sail in a slightly different direction. Although undercooked, seared, or raw fish has a higher chance of harboring a parasite, a bacteria, or a virus, women from other parts of the world have been consuming raw fish for centuries without a problem (think Japan).
Additionally, because most of the fish used in sushi in the United States has been flash frozen before it makes its way to your local jaunt, the majority of parasites and bacteria have already been eliminated. However, while we may let raw fish slide (or swim!), what we don’t deviate on is where you consume this raw or undercooked food AND the type of raw fish you choose to eat.
Make sure you are getting your food from a reputable establishment that not only handles and stores food properly but also serves it soon after purchasing it. Last, choose the low mercury menu choices (a.k.a. fresh or wild salmon) rather than the high mercury options (farmed salmon and the like).
Your taste buds will change faster than your body. One week, you will be obsessed with shrimp, and the next, just the sight of it will make you want to vomit. It’s totally normal. The tides of eating and cravings move fast in pregnancy. Make sure to chat with your captain (a.k.a. your OB/GYN) before you embark on a new food journey. Safety is first no matter where you choose to set sail.