Pregnancy tends to put the kibosh on lots of things moms love, like turkey sandwiches, unpasteurized brie and that glass of pinot. But is eating sushi while pregnant also off-limits?
Yes, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other leading medical authorities. That’s because uncooked fish is more likely to contain parasites and bacteria—including listeria—that can lead to infections and foodborne illnesses and potentially harm your growing baby. “Since pregnant women have weakened immune systems, they’re more susceptible to bacteria and parasites that can be present in raw fish if the fish isn’t handled properly,” explains Candice Wood, MD, an ob-gyn at Banner–University Medical Center Phoenix.
The question of whether eating sushi while pregnant is safe has elicited differing opinions in the past, and some believe consuming raw fish from reputable establishments is low-risk. But most doctors (and official guidelines) encourage moms-to-be to steer clear of uncooked sushi. “Of course the quality of a restaurant should ensure proper handling of the fish, but it can’t guarantee that it’s safe to eat,” Wood says. “The safest thing for you and your baby is to avoid raw fish while pregnant.”
In addition to concerns about bacteria and parasites, some types of fish used in sushi—such as bigeye and yellowfin tuna, swordfish and marlin—contain high levels of mercury, a toxic metal that can cause serious birth defects, including brain damage, blindness and deafness.
That doesn’t mean all sushi is off the table, though. Adding certain fish to your pregnancy diet is actually very healthy, thanks to all those omega 3 fatty acids—as long as the seafood is cooked, Wood says. In fact, the FDA encourages moms-to-be to eat two to three servings of low-mercury fish every week. So those cooked sushi rolls, like tempura? Perfectly fine to eat while pregnant, as long as the fish is low in mercury and has been heated to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Updated January 2018
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