What’s the deal with seafood?

What to Know

  • Seafood contains necessary nutrients that help foster healthy fetal, infant and childhood development
  • Learn which types of seafood are safe and recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women (and which aren’t!)

Most Americans aren’t eating the recommended two servings of seafood each week, and that includes pregnant women. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces of low mercury seafood a week.

Fresh seafood snack salad on square plate over blue wooden table

Seafood is a great source of protein, zinc and iron – all necessary nutrients for your baby’s growth and development. Many fish also contain omega-3 fatty acids, fats that can help support your baby’s normal brain development. But with concerns over mercury levels in fish, many pregnant women simply skip seafood all together and miss out on the benefits. It makes all the difference to know which types of seafood to eat and which to avoid.

Some specific types of seafood can contain high levels of methylmercury and should be avoided because the mercury can accumulate in your bloodstream over time, which could ultimately damage your baby’s developing brain and nervous system. These types of fish include large, predatory fish such as shark, big eye or ahi tuna, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, tilefish and orange roughy.

Tuna recommendations can be confusing as the FDA identifies three different types of tuna all with different recommendations: big eye tuna also called ahi tuna should be avoided due to high mercury, white albacore tuna may be consumed if limited to under 6 ounces each week and canned light tuna can be consumed up to 12 ounces per week.

In addition to the canned light tuna mentioned above there are a wide variety of fish lower in mercury to choose from, such as wild salmon, sardines, mussels, rainbow trout and atlantic mackerel. Shrimp, tilapia, scallops, clams and catfish are good low-mercury options, they are lower in omega 3 fatty acids but are still good sources of lean protein.

If pregnancy food aversions have you turning your nose up at seafood, consider those with milder flavor, such as cod, trout and arctic char. You can also experiment with canned options in burgers and salads, like salmon, crab, shrimp and canned light tuna. If you happen to like them, canned sardines are an excellent choice (and especially high in nutrients if you eat them with the skin and bones). Smashed with avocado, salt and pepper on toast, canned sardines make a very nutritious meal.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid eating raw fish, as they’re more susceptible to food-borne illness. Can’t go 40 weeks without a sushi fix? Try sushi with cooked fish (without roe or fish eggs), vegetarian rolls or rolls made with cooked shrimp crab or salmon. Just make sure to inform your server that preparation of your sushi needs to remain separate from any handling of raw fish to avoid cross contamination.

For more information, check out this helpful chart from the FDA: https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm393070.htm

What to Do

Incorporate low mercury seafood at least twice a week into your daily meal plan

Swap chicken, red meat or pork for up to 12 ounces per week of low mercury seafood. Make salmon burgers with canned salmon or top leafy greens with chilled shrimp.

Avoid eating raw fish, and enjoy sushi only if it is cooked or vegetarian

Avoid high mercury fish

Avoid fish recognized as having higher amounts of methylmercury, like shark, big eye or ahi tuna, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, tilefish and orange roughy. Instead, aim to eat 12 ounces each week of high omega-3, lower mercury fish like wild salmon, sardines, mussels, rainbow trout, canned light tuna and atlantic mackarel.

Shrimp, tilapia, scallops, clams and catfish are good low-mercury options, they are lower in omega 3 fatty acids but are still good sources of lean protein.

Sources

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