Photo by Karin Pedersen Photography

One of the most common food types that people will tell you that you cannot eat while pregnant is sushi, or raw fish.  There are many health benefits to having fish as part of your regular diet.  So why is it that sushi shouldn’t be consumed while pregnant?  Does this apply to other types of fish as well? 

Not All Sushi Is Created Equal

Not all sushi contains raw fish.  There are many types that contain cooked seafood, such as eel, shrimp, squid or octopus.  There are also many vegetarian options as well.  

Rather than saying “you should not eat sushi while pregnant”, it is more about being mindful of the types of sushi you are consuming while you are pregnant.  You can still enjoy many types of sushi while pregnant.  

What Are The Dangers Of Raw Fish?

Pregnant women are advised to only eat cooked fish or seafood to avoid potentially harmful organisms and food poisoning.  

Food poisoning can be dangerous in a pregnant woman.  When you are pregnant, your immune system is weakened which can make you more susceptible to harmful bacteria in undercooked food.  Food poisoning in the first trimester can even cause miscarriage.  

The Current Recommendations for Fish Consumption During Pregnancy

The ACOG recommends that all pregnant women, or those who may be come pregnant consume: 

  • 2-3 servings per week of a variety of fish with low mercury content. Examples include: anchovy, atlantic mackerel, cod, crab, haddock, lobster, salmon, scallop and shrimp.
  • Only 1 serving per week of certain types of fish to minimize mercury intake. Examples include: sea bass, halibut, mahi mahi, snapper, yellowfin, and albacore tuna.
  • Avoid certain types of fish with high mercury content. Examples include king mackerel, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish and bigeye tuna.

A Note About Mercury

Nearly all fish contain some level of mercury.  Mercury is a naturally occurring metal in our environment, though its levels are increasing due to pollution.   Mercury accumulates in the tissues of fish from the surrounding water and also from the prey they eat.  Predatory fish are more likely to have higher levels of mercury. 

The fetal brain is the most sensitive organ to mercury levels.  If a woman is exposed to high levels of mercury while she is pregnant, the baby may suffer from nervous system damage, brain damage, learning difficulties, or hearing loss.  

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.