What You Need to Know about Eating Sushi While Pregnant
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What You Need to Know About Eating Sushi While Pregnant

Can you eat sushi while pregnant? Is it a big deal if you do? We're reviewing the evidence and providing suggestions!

Published September 9, 2018

by Lauren Ramirez

Medically reviewed by Kristy Goodman

Obstetrician-Gynecologist Physician Assistant, MS, MPH, PA-C

Pregnancy is an incredibly special time in a woman’s life. Many women begin thinking about baby’s health and development rather early. Many old wives’ tales about what you can and cannot eat while pregnant. There are also a handful of hard-and-fast rules many pregnant women swear by. For example, one of the most common rules is that you can’t eat sushi while pregnant.

Is eating sushi something you should avoid while pregnant? It’s not an easy answer. While many types of sushi and fish should be avoided while pregnant, some are safe. Here are the facts you need to know regarding sushi consumption while pregnant.

The Cons of Eating Sushi While Pregnant

It is becoming increasingly common knowledge that sushi (and raw fish in general) is something to be cautious of during pregnancy. However, many expectant mothers don’t know precisely why they should swear off sushi. This lack of understanding can be confusing and frustrating. Eating sushi is not as taboo as it once was. However, there are still pros and cons to be aware of.

Much Sushi is Raw

One vital reason is that much sushi is uncooked fish. Raw fish is more likely to contain parasites and bacteria (including listeria) that could harm you and your baby. Even the best sushi restaurant could unintentionally subject their customers to foodborne illnesses. This is a gamble most pregnant women are not willing to take.

High Levels of Mercury

A good reason to be cautious about sushi while pregnant is the presence of mercury.1 Particularly when it is uncooked. Mercury is a toxic metal that can cause severe birth defects, including brain damage, blindness, and deafness.1 Some types of fish to avoid, even in a cooked roll, are ahi and yellowfin tuna, swordfish, and marlin.1

Anisakis and Other Parasitic Worms

Occasionally, fish such as salmon may contain small parasitic worms like anisakis.2,3 The worm can usually be killed at high temperatures. However, eating the good stuff raw or undercooked means you might risk exposing yourself and your baby to the worms.

Infection with these worms results in a condition known as anisakidosis. Symptoms of anisakidosis include:6

  • severe abdominal pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea

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. Anisakidosis has also been found in people eating raw or marinated anchovies.4 Anchovies are traditionally processed and preserved in salt and brine, which does not always destroy the worms.

Can You Eat Sushi While Pregnant? | Baby Chick

The Pros 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.5 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 the salmon must be baked (or grilled or broiled) well.

Different Types of Sushi

When eating at a restaurant, it’s important to be aware of the ingredients of the dish you’re ordering. Sushi restaurants are often great at explaining the different kinds of sushi in their menus. But we’ve included a quick guide if you cannot 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 sushi staple—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?

A proper diet for an expectant mother should be filled with foods that your trusted medical professional agrees upon and approves. You are encouraged and allowed to consume well-prepared and well-cooked fish and shellfish while pregnant. These creatures from the big blue sea provide many big health benefits. Not to mention, they’re delicious. Opt for shrimp tempura or a similar cooked roll when out for Japanese cuisine with friends or family.

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. Choose one of these with all of the delicious veggies and rice your heart could desire. For the most part, on the sushi side of things, you’d be safer to order tempura or another form of cooked fish when choosing 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.

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Old mom to a chocolate lab and new mom to a baby girl, former teacher and current higher education professional. Read more

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