Pregnancy and Seafood
It is said that mothers who ate seafood such as fish during pregnancy have given birth to children with higher IQ (Intelligent Quotient), as compared to those who did not eat fish. This is due to the fact that seafood is a great source of protein and other nutrients: vitamins (vitamin D and choline), minerals (iron, zinc, iodine, copper and selenium). In addition, it contains polyunsaturated Omega 3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are very helpful in mental development of the child.
During pregnancy the expecting mother needs to be careful on what she eats for a healthy and safe pregnancy. Seafood (fish and shellfish) plays an important role in pregnant woman’s diet as it has high nutrition benefits. Research study indicates that intake of seafood decreases the risk for pre-mature birth and lower weight of the baby.
What type of seafood is safe to eat during pregnancy?
Following type of seafood is safe to eat by an expecting mother:
Well cleaned and cooked shellfish (such as prawns) are safe to eat. It is a good source of proteins and omega 3 fatty acids which helps in the overall development of the baby – especially brain, nerves and eyes. It also contains low saturated fats. Pregnant women can have prawn stir fry or crab cakes as some of healthy recipes. Therefore pregnant women need not miss out on shell fish till it is well cooked. Although they should be careful as shellfish can contain some environmental pollutants – PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins, pesticides and other contaminants. The variety includes turbot, bream, halibut, dogfish (or rock salmon or Huss), sea bass and crab. It is a good idea to limit its intake to two portions a week.
Smoked seafood and fish are very rich in the nutrients required during pregnancy. It contains vitamins A and D and proteins. Vitamins A and D are present in fish liver oil. They are also rich source of vitamin B complex especially B6, B12 and niacin. It has very low fat content. It is safe to eat smoked fish during pregnancy as it is not “raw”. Parasites, if any, are killed during smoking the fish. Smoked seafood and fish should be consumed during pregnancy as it is a good source of calcium, iron, iodine, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, selenium and omega 3 fatty acids which are required from the development of baby’s brain, eyes and nervous system.
Consumption of only canned smoked seafood is recommended. Also, pregnant women should avoid eating seafood such as shark, marlin and sword fish etc. These varieties may contain methyl mercury, which is very poisonous. Also, this kind of seafood may have listeria bacteria (which can cause listeriosis – dangerous condition during pregnancy). This disease can lead to miscarriage, still births and other complications related to pregnancy.
Pregnant women should be careful while buying seafood. It might be preserved along with raw fish, causing contamination and transfer of bacteria might occur.
Oily fish such as herring, pilchards, mackerel, sardines and salmon are good source of essential fats required for pregnant women. They are a good source of various essential vitamins such as calcium, nutrients and omega 3 fatty acids required for the developing baby and the mother. Therefore it is important to include it in the meal. The variety includes – Pilcards, fresh tuna, eel, salmon, herring, mackerel, trout, sardines, kippers, whitebait, anchovies
Oily fish may contain environmental pollutants – PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins, pesticides and other contaminants. Therefore, pregnant women should limit the intake of these fishes to two portions in a week.
It is safe to eat sushi made from previously frozen fish. It is important to freeze the fish as it kills parasites such as tape worms. These parasites can make you ill if the fish is not frozen and consumed directly. The raw fish used to make sushi should be frozen at minus 20 degrees for minimum 24 hours. Use of fresh fish to prepare sushi may be risky during pregnancy. One may choose fully cooked sushi varieties that are available. If you prepare sushi make sure to freeze the fish for 24 hours and in case you buy it from a shop or restaurant where they make sushi, you may ask the staff if any concerns. Sushi made of smoked salmon does not need to be frozen before consuming it, as smoking kills any parasites in the fish. Apart from sushi, other dishes could also be prepared from raw fish and could be consumed by pregnant women, till it has been frozen properly. Salting or making pickle of the raw food is also safe to eat.
Fish oil: Fish oil is rich in omega 3 acids which also help women during pregnancy. Intake of fish oil during pregnancy reduces the risk of various complications such as early delivery, High blood pressure and miscarriage. Fish oil can be obtained by either eating fish or consuming supplements. The fish oil is made from fishes such as salmon, cod liver, whale blubber, tuna etc.
What type of seafood is unsafe to eat during pregnancy?
Following type of seafood is unsafe to eat during pregnancy:
Fish rich in mercury
Mercury severely affects the development of baby, especially the nervous system. Mostly all the fishes contain some level of mercury. Some fishes such as tilefish, escolar, swordfish, orange roughy, king mackerel, marlin and shark may contain very high level of mercury. Therefore they should not be consumed by pregnant women. It is advised that even women who are planning to become pregnant should stop themselves from eating these fish for few months. Mercury absorbed by the fish and shellfish can accumulate in the body of pregnant women. It takes lot of time to naturally flush it out from the body.
Mercury is released into the air through pollution and is also present in our environment. It is a liquid form of metal. Mercury when falls in water, it gets converted to methyl mercury. It is a toxin that a fish and shellfish absorb through their food. This methylmercury badly affects the nervous system of the babies and young children. Mercury in seafood is not of concern for adults. If a pregnant woman regularly consumes fish with high mercury, it can accumulate in the bloodstream. This could badly affect baby’s developing brain and nervous system. It could also lead to reproductive failure, pre term birth, and miscarriage, physical and developmental delays in babies.
Eating some of the raw seafood during pregnancy can cause food poisoning as it can contain harmful bacteria, viruses or parasites such as tapeworms, toxoplasmosis, salmonella an flukes. Food poisoning may or may not harm the baby, although it can harm the health of pregnant women. Parasites suck the essential nutrients required by an expecting mother and the baby. Seafood should be frozen properly and cooked well before eating. This removes viruses, parasites and bacteria, and makes the seafood safe to eat.
Tuna usually contains high levels of mercury. Albacore (or white) tuna and tuna steaks have higher mercury levels (almost three times) as compared to canned light tuna. Although there is higher limit for tuna consumption that is safe. It is 12 ounces for light tuna and 6 ounces for albacore in a week. This limit is not applicable for canned tuna. There are different species of tuna which are low in mercury such as – yellowfin, tongol and skipjack. Pregnant do not need to limit their consumption of canned tuna.
Pregnant women should avoid taking higher sodium intake as it can lead to swelling or increased blood pressure. This can cause illness to the mother and can harm the baby. Processing of seafood involves addition of salt. This makes the sodium content in the food very high. Therefore it should be avoided.
Recommended portion of seafood
Pregnant women can eat 2 to 3 meals (that is up to 12 ounces – 340 grams) of fish and shellfish a week. Different kinds of fish and shellfish could be mixed and consumed. Canned light tuna, shrimp, crab, trout, herring, Pollock (Boston blue fish), anchovy, char, hake, mullet, haddock, catfish, smelt, cod, tilapia, scallops, flounder, clams, sole, oysters, crayfish, croaker, sardines, whitefish and salmon are low in mercury content and hence safe to eat during pregnancy. Pregnant women should consume same variety of fish or shellfish only once in a week.