Can You Eat Sushi When Pregnant? (Rules on Raw Fish)
If you’re a sushi lover, you may wonder whether you can continue eating your favorite rolls once you’re pregnant. The answer is, maybe.
It all depends on what kind of fish is on the sushi and whether or not it’s been cooked.
Raw fish is off the table during pregnancy, and although eating fish is recommended, only certain types of fish are considered safe.
When we think of sushi, we think about raw fish on rice. But actually, the word sushi refers to a Japanese dish that includes rice and vinegar. Other ingredients don’t have to be fish.
Sushi can be served with vegetables, eggs, or a variety of other non-fish ingredients. Since many types of sushi have raw fish as a main ingredient, we will focus on fish and seafood in this article.
Eating Sushi While Pregnant
Pregnant women can safely consume sushi as long as the fish has been fully cooked. There are also vegetarian options which are generally considered fine. It’s also important to choose only low-mercury seafood options, such as salmon, crab, or shrimp.
How Raw Fish Affects Your Baby: Benefits and Risks
A growing fetus gets its nutrients directly from your blood. So anything you eat or drink will be passed along, in varying amounts. Fish is good for your baby’s brain development, but certain types of fish have dangerously high levels of mercury.
Raw meat carries the risk of food poisoning, which may have serious effects on your baby. This is why only a limited amount of fully cooked, low-mercury fish is considered safe.
Sushi can be a delicious and nutritious option during pregnancy. But, there are some safety precautions to keep in mind. Ahead, we outline the benefits and risks of eating sushi when you have a baby on the way.
Benefits of Sushi During Pregnancy
Let’s start with the reasons to eat fish during pregnancy:
A Good Source of Lean Protein
Fish and other seafood can be a good source of lean protein during pregnancy. It’s important to get enough protein while you have a baby on the way, and lean proteins are the best way to go.
Consuming an excess of meats high in saturated fats increase your risk of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and going into labor early. Fish has mostly high-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol), so you can get the protein you need while keeping yourself in good overall health.
Fetal Brain Development
Eating fish also promotes your baby’s brain development in a major way, because of the omega-3 fatty acids it contains. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) specifically recommends that pregnant women consume fish a few times per week.
Risks and Precautions of Sushi During Pregnancy
While it’s important to eat fish during pregnancy, you should restrict yourself to certain types of fish in limited amounts. Let’s get into what kinds of fish are okay to eat with a baby on the way:
Despite its benefits, virtually all fish has been contaminated by mercury. Mercury is a toxin and it can cause serious health issues if too much is ingested.
To protect your growing baby, limit yourself to two to three servings of low-mercury fish each week, as per the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Avoid high mercury fish completely. A serving is 4 ounces.
Note that while fish needs to be limited, it is still so beneficial to fetal brain development that experts recommend eating some, rather than abstaining completely.
Examples of low-mercury seafood options:
High-mercury fish to avoid:
- Bigeye tuna
- King mackerel
Some of the tastiest sushi rolls are served with raw fish, but those are unfortunately off the table during pregnancy. Any animal products must be fully cooked to be considered safe to eat when you have a baby on the way.
This is due to the risk of foodborne illnesses such as listeria. The risk is small but contracting listeriosis can lead to complications for your developing baby, including stillbirth or pregnancy loss, so it is not considered worth it.
Avoid any sushi with raw, smoked, seared, or otherwise not completely cooked fish.
What if You Ate Sushi Before You Knew You Were Pregnant?
If you just saw a positive pregnancy test and you suddenly realize you ate sushi last night, try not to be overly concerned. Just stop eating raw fish and only order low-mercury fish going forward.
In the extremely rare case that you come down with food poisoning symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea, reach out to your healthcare provider for advice.
Can You Eat Sushi While Breastfeeding?
The guidelines for eating fish while breastfeeding are basically the same as when you are pregnant. You should eat no more than two to three servings of low-mercury seafood per week.
You can eat raw or undercooked fish while breastfeeding if you so choose. We don’t know if listeria passes through breast milk, but if it does it is in very low amounts. If you have a stash of pumped milk, you could always use that in the rare case that you would contract listeriosis.
However, it’s generally recommended to continue breastfeeding your baby if you have food poisoning, as the benefits of breast milk outweigh any risks.
If you used previously pumped milk, remember to pump so that your supply continues. Always ask your child’s pediatrician for specific advice if you have a listeria infection or other illness while breastfeeding.
Types of Sushi That Are Safe to Eat During Pregnancy
You can still have a delicious meal when going out to sushi while pregnant. Tell your server that you are pregnant or that you want to order only full-cooked options. Your server might not be familiar with which fish are high in mercury, so keep a list of good options handy on your phone.
When in doubt, ask your server if the fish is very big, as the bigger the fish, the higher the mercury level.
Here are some examples of sushi dishes you can enjoy with a baby on the way:
- Anago (sea eel)
- Avocado roll
- Cucumber roll
- Ebi (shrimp)
- Ikura (salmon roe)
- Inari (tofu)
- Kani (crab)
- Saba (mackerel)
- Tako (octopus)
- Tamago (egg)
- Unagi (eel)
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021, January 12). Advice about eating fish. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish
American Pregnancy Association. (2021). Pregnancy Nutrition. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/pregnancy-nutrition/
Abdollahi, A., Ghojazadeh, M., & Ahmadzadeh, M. (2020). Maternal fish consumption and risk of small for gestational age and large for gestational age babies: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 9(3), 1131-1137. doi: 10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_1118_19
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2020, December). Nutrition during pregnancy. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2020). Fish Consumption During Pregnancy. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK582795/
National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2020). Mercury and Fish Consumption. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved April 1, 20231, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK582795/
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