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Eating Seafood While Pregnant: Most Nutritious Choices and Seafood to Avoid

If you’re wondering about eating seafood during your pregnancy, you’re not alone! Many women are curious about the safety and nutritional benefits of seafood during pregnancy. In this blog post, we'll dispel some myths and give you the lowdown on which types of seafood are most nutritious for expectant mothers—as well as those that should be avoided. We'll also recommend a few recipes so you can enjoy seafood during your pregnancy!

Can Pregnant Women Eat Seafood?

Yes, generally speaking. 

Contrary to myths, it is generally considered safe to eat seafood while pregnant. In fact, many experts recommend that pregnant women include seafood in their diet, as it can help to provide important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and iodine. These nutrients are crucial for both fetal growth and brain development. Furthermore, consuming seafood has also been shown to reduce the risk of preterm birth and pregnancy complications.

However, there are some safety concerns that should be taken into consideration when eating seafood during pregnancy. For example, certain types of fish may contain high levels of mercury that can be harmful to a developing fetus. Additionally, you should always consult with a doctor before making any changes to your diet during pregnancy. With proper precautions, though, eating seafood during pregnancy can be a great way to boost your overall health and well-being.

What Seafood Can You Eat While Pregnant?

The good news is that most seafood is perfectly safe to eat during pregnancy. In fact, across the board, seafood can be an especially healthy component of your pregnancy diet. This is because fish are generally high in key nutrients that support fetal brain development. 

These include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA)
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Choline
  • Vitamins B12 and D
  • Protein
  • Selenium

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing seafood. 

  • First of all, only eat fish that has been cooked thoroughly. Raw or undercooked fish can contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning. If you do opt for raw seafood, ensure that it’s sushi-grade and from a reputable, trusted source. 
  • Secondly, avoid fish with high concentrations of mercury. Mercury is a toxic element that can build up in the body, and it can be especially harmful to developing babies. 
  • Finally, look for fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These essential nutrients are important for fetal brain development, and they can also help to reduce the risk of preterm labor. 

So, what seafood can you eat while pregnant? With these guidelines in mind, you can enjoy delicious and nutritious seafood throughout your pregnancy. Here are a few of the best options for you and baby:

1. Salmon

Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is prized for its high omega-3 fatty acid content, making it a perfect choice for a pregnancy diet. Not only is salmon some of the safest seafood from a mercury standpoint, but it’s also nutritionally rich. 

In addition to omega-3s, salmon is a great source of protein, and vitamins B6, B12, and D. These encourage healthy brain development in growing fetuses and support the mom’s health, too. 

While fishy smells and tastes may be a turn-off for moms-to-be, salmon also has a lighter smell and taste. This makes it a more palatable choice, too. 

2. Trout

Like salmon, just one 6-ounce serving a week of trout provides an adequate source of DHA. Docosahexaenoic (DHA) acid is one type of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, and it’s one of the most important nutrients during pregnancy. It supports healthy fetal growth and research suggests that it reduces the risk of preterm birth

Not only do trout and salmon provide DHA, but they also do so without increasing biomarker levels of mercury, which is associated with developmental neurotoxicity. 

3. Herring

Herring is yet another type of low-mercury seafood that can provide all the necessary DHA in just a single 6-ounce serving. The white fish is often caught in waters near Northern Ireland and Scotland and is nutritionally dense. In addition to omega-3s that support fetal brain development, herring is a good source of vitamin D and selenium. It also contains tiny bones that can be removed, but if eaten, they’re an excellent source of calcium! 

4. Tuna (canned chunk light, skipjack)

Chunk light canned tuna is yet another fish that is deemed a “Best Choice” for pregnant women by the Food and Drug Administration. Eating up to three servings of tuna a week will provide key nutrients without leading to a dangerous increase in mercury levels. Tuna is convenient and high in omega-3s, protein, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.  

Do, however, eat albacore, yellowfin, and white tuna less often, as they contain more mercury. 

Other popular pregnancy-friendly best choice seafood includes: Anchovy, Atlantic Mackerel, Black Sea Bass, Catfish, Clam, Cod, Crab, Crawfish, Flounder, Haddock, Hake, Lobster, Mullet, Oyster, Perch, Pickerel, Pollock, Sardine, Scallop, Shrimp. Sole, Squid, Tilapia, Whitefish, and Whiting. 

Seafood for Pregnant Women

Why Can’t You Eat Seafood While Pregnant: Mercury

Now you might be wondering why you can't eat seafood while pregnant. Most of it has to do with mercury. Mercury occurs naturally and is found in soil, rack, and water all around the world. Human activities have increased mercury levels through burning fossil fuels and mining gold. 

In these cases, mercury is in the atmosphere before it ends up in the ocean, where it is converted by bacteria to methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury. Fish absorb methylmercury in food and in water. As it passes over their gills, it becomes tightly bound to the proteins in fish tissue, like muscle. 

Methylmercury accumulates as you move up the food chain. Phytoplankton eat it first, then zooplankton eat the phytoplankton, then the small fish eat the zooplankton. Eventually, it reaches the bigger fish. This means that larger, predatory fish tend to be those with the highest concentrations of mercury. 

Unfortunately, there’s no way to clean or cook fish to remove the mercury. Because of their large bodies and consumption of other types of fish that also have methylmercury absorbed into their tissues, large predatory fish can have methylmercury concentrations 10 million times higher than other fish in their habitat. 

Mercury can complicate the health of the mom and damage the developing brains of human fetuses, leading to deficits in motor skills, behavior, cognition, and attention. For this reason, certain types of seafood should not be consumed by pregnant women:

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark 
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Bigeye Tuna (often found in sushi)

Final Thoughts on Pregnancy-Safe Seafood

Expectant mothers everywhere can rejoice in knowing that they can safely celebrate Taco Tuesday with some Grilled Salmon Tacos. In fact, enjoying that or Baked Salmon with Spring Vegetables is one of the best things you can do when you’ve got a bun in the oven! 

While there are some types of seafood that should be avoided during pregnancy because they contain high levels of mercury, most fish and seafood can provide an excellent source of vitamins and fatty acids. As always, if you’re unsure about which types of seafood are safest for you and your pregnancy, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor or healthcare professional.