The Facts about Fish

There has been so much confusing press about seafood and whether it can be consumed during pregnancy. Let me start out by saying that Yes, certain seafood can be consumed safely during pregnancy (and some is recommended for pregnant women). The issue surrounds two things: mercury content in some seafood, and if the seafood is consumed raw or undercooked.

Mercury is an element that can collect in many of the world’s oceans, lakes and streams. When the levels of mercury rise, the fish that swim within those waters become contaminated with mercury and convert it into methylmercury, a potent neurotoxin that gets stored in the meat and flesh of the fish. High levels of mercury cause birth defects in unborn babies. The good news: not all the waters of the world are contaminated. Further, not all types of fish are affected by, or store, mercury.  

Fish, or seafood, has been praised for its health benefits. Indeed, seafood contains essential protein, vitamins and minerals that are healthy for women throughout the lifespan, and especially while pregnant. Fish is one of the richest sources of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The Omega 3 fatty acids in some seafood, for example, are thought to potentially decrease the risk of premature delivery and supports and promotes growth and development of the baby’s brain and vision.

So, what’s safe?

Let me break it down:

How Much?  

Aim for 2 to 3 servings of fish per week that can replace the protein in other meals (that equates to about 8 to 12 ounces of allowed seafood per week)

The fish that are safe

Photo by Marie-France Latour

Photo by Marie-France Latour

Its OK to eat the following fish:

  1. salmon
  2. tilapia
  3. shrimp
  4. tuna (canned, light)
  5. cod
  6. catfish
  7. crab
  8. sardines
  9. pollock
  10. canned or shelf-safe smoked seafood is OK

Fish to Avoid

Photo by Christine Siracusa
  1. Raw or undercooked fish of any kind, including sushi and sashimi
  2. No nova lox, kippered or jerky style salmon that you would buy in a deli or put on a bagel
  3. No raw mussels, oysters or clams
  4. shark
  5. swordfish
  6. king mackerel
  7. tilefish

Use caution with bluefish, striped bass, pike, trout, or walleye that may come from contaminated waters. Be sure to check if they are from contaminated lakes or rivers (see my note about this below). When in doubt, either avoid eating seafood from those waters or limit your intake to less than 6 ounces per week.

How can you tell if the fish if from safe waters? 

Seafood stores, the local grocery or restaurants are held to high sanitation and food preparation standards. Among those standards include where they procure their meat and seafood from and what process they go through for storage, cleaning, and the avoidance of cross contamination with other fish or proteins. The concern arises when people fish or harvest seafood or fish on their own from local lakes, streams, rivers, or nearby large bodies of water. Farm raised fish, or commercial fisheries that harvest large quantities of fish, adhere to the same strict standards for handling and testing fish they catch or raise.

To find out if local waters are safe, contact the local health department or the website of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Or, corporations such as Safe Catch have high standards for mercury levels and overall seafood safety.  Safe Catch is also a sponsor endorsed by the American Pregnancy Association.

Featured photo by rawpixel

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