Sushi and pregnancy may seem like an unlikely combination, but it actually can be safe to eat when done right. Besides, eating fish, like salmon, has plenty of positive health benefits for moms-to-be, but you should be smart about how it's prepared and how much you eat.
Eating sushi while pregnant isn't off-limits, but you'll want to make sure it's cooked thoroughly, says Jennifer Messer, MS, RD. "Eating raw fish or undercooked fish should be avoided as it may contain harmful bacteria and parasites that can cause food-borne illnesses and danger to mom and developing baby," she tells Today's Parent.
It's equally important to pay attention to the types of fish used to make sushi, as some fish used in rolls and dishes contain high mercury levels, which can be harmful to your health. "Low-mercury skipjack tuna and salmon are good choices that are safe to eat," explains Messer.
Messer advises eating sushi rolls made from fully cooked fish or vegetables. Here are some of her recommended low-mercury and cooked sushi options that are both delicious and safe for pregnant women to eat:
Because salmon is high in essential omega-3 fatty acids, Messer says this roll (which is usually made with cooked salmon, cucumber, and avocado) is safe for pregnant women to eat. "However, it's always a good idea to check with your restaurant to make sure that the fish and ingredients used in a roll like this are properly cooked and safe for consumption," she adds.
Thanks to its nutrient profile, salmon is an excellent source of protein and nutrients for both you and fetal development if consumed correctly and in the recommended amounts.
If you're in the mood for shrimp, you're in luck! Because this type of sushi roll is made with cooked shrimp, cucumber, and other vegetables, Messer says it's pregnancy-safe.
Shrimp can be a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, though it's suggested these mouth-watering shellfish are eaten in moderation to limit your intake of saturated fats.
Crabmeat can be a treat for your taste buds, but Messer recommends sticking with imitation crabmeat sushi rolls when trying to limit your mercury intake during pregnancy."Look for pollock imitation crab rolls, a great low-mercury choice," she explains.
There are some considerations to keep in mind, though, says dietitian Nishta Saxena, MSc, RD. "Imitation crab contains MSG, carrageenan, higher milligrams of sodium and sodium benzoate," she says.
For this reason, it's best recommended to limit your consumption of imitation crab meat to no more than two to three times a week.
And even though imitation crab meat doesn't contain real crab, it's still possible to get food poisoning because it contains fish and, in some instances, egg whites as ingredients. That's why it's important to make sure your fish is fully cooked before you eat it.
"This is another great sushi roll choice for pregnant women, especially when it's fully cooked," adds Messer. "Plus, it's very flavorful, so it will satisfy those pregnancy cravings."
Yes, tempura is pregnancy-safe thanks to being cooked, says Messer. "Just make sure your roll includes veggies like sweet potato or asparagus," she adds.
According to Messer, there are types of fish that the Food and Drug Administration warns against eating during pregnancy.
"These include fish with the highest mercury content; swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and bigeye tuna," she says. "The big tuna eat smaller fish, and, therefore, have high levels of mercury themselves."
While it is safe to eat sushi that is fully cooked during pregnancy, medically reviewed literature from the American College of Obstetricians recommends limiting seafood consumption to two to three servings (8 to 12 ounces) per week. This is because you should eat a varied diet and make sure your exposure to high-mercury fish is low.
However, if you have a knack for tuna, the ACOG recommends eating fish like albacore tuna only once a week, in a serving size of six ounces or less.
Grocery store sushi can be a quick and easy meal when you're pressed for time, but it can also raise safety concerns. However, the good news is that eating sushi from the grocery store is most likely safe during pregnancy, as long as there are no raw ingredients and there is little risk of cross-contamination between raw and cooked ingredients, says Ali Bandier, MS, RD, CDN.
"As long as you don’t feel physically sick after eating raw sushi, you should not worry," says Bandier. "However, you should watch out for unusual symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle pain, diarrhea or stomach upset. If any of these occur, see a doctor at your local emergency room immediately."
Despite the fact that fetuses are vulnerable to mercury exposure in high amounts, pregnant parents should not avoid fish altogether, says Messer. "Fish is a great source of essential omega-3 fatty acids that are important in brain development," she explains. "Your best bet is to choose sushi made from cooked fish that is also lower in mercury."
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