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Eating Sushi While Pregnant

Updated on January 9, 2011

Can Pregnant Women Eat Sushi?

Many American women wonder if it is safe to eat sushi while pregnant. While many people discourage eating sushi while pregnant, it can be done safely, as long as the woman is aware of the types of fish she consumes and has a trusted source for good, fresh sushi. Most Japanese women continue to eat sushi while pregnant with no ill effects.

Ultimately, eating sushi while pregnant is a risk, though a manageable one, and a choice that should be made individually after consulting with your doctor. It's important to be aware of the mercury levels in the fish you eat and the risk  of intestinal parasites from sushi.


Risks to Pregnant Women- Mercury Exposure

Doctors commonly advise women to avoid sushi while pregnant for two reasons- to limit their exposure to mercury and to avoid parasites.

Mercury in Fish

Many large fish that are high on the food chain are popular sushi fish, but these fish often have dangerously high levels of mercury in their flesh. Pregnant women and their fetuses are particularly vulnerable to mercury poisoning. In the 1950s, some Japanese women who consumed fish with high mercury levels while pregnant gave birth to babies with serious birth defects, leading doctors to warn women about consuming too much mercury while pregnant.

Fish with High Mercury Levels

Consuming these fish (raw or cooked) should be avoided while pregnant.

  • shark
  • swordfish
  • king mackerel
  • tilefish
  • albacore, or "white" tuna

Fish with Low Mercury Levels

The EPA recommends that women and children eat two servings per week of these low-mercury fish:

  • salmon
  • canned light tuna
  • shrimp
  • pollock
  • catfish

Other Risks- Parasites

Many doctors discourage pregnant women from consuming raw fish because there is an inherent risk of consuming parasitic worms in the fish's flesh. While these parasites may not be serious or life-threatening for mother or child, treatments for intestinal parasites are too harsh to be administered while the mother is pregnant and would have to be put on hold until after delivery. 

A reputable and clean sushi restaurant offers lowered risk of contracting a parasite. Fish should be fresh and freeze-treated by freezing for 24 hours before consumption, which kills parasitic worms. Most fish chosen for sushi has lowered risk of containing worms, and it is always inspected by many people before it reaches your plate.


Safe Sushi

Many types of sushi, especially types of maki, or sushi rolls, contain no fish or cooked fish. Here is a partial list of sushi that can be enjoyed by pregnant women or anyone who wishes to avoid raw fish.

  • Anything containing eel. Eel is always served cooked.
  • Shrimp, or ebi, is usually served cooked.
  • Smoked salmon is not technically cooked, but it is preserved, so there is little risk of consuming a parasite.
  • Tamago, or sushi omelette, is cooked egg.
  • Ikura, or salmon roe, and tobiko, or flying fish roe, are raw fish eggs, but are usually preserved in a soy mixture. (Fish eggs do not carry salmonella.)
  • Anything containing cooked fish.
  • California rolls usually contain cooked pollock (not crab), which is low in mercury.

Of course, all vegetarian sushi is safe for anyone to eat. Most restaurants will only offer vegetarian rolls, but some will also serve vegetarian nigiri. Types of vegetarian sushi available may include:

  • avocado
  • cucumber
  • pickled daikon radish
  • kanpyo, or sweet squash
  • sweet potato tempura
  • seaweed salad
  • plum paste and cucumber
  • asparagus
  • tofu or tempeh
  • spinach

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    • JenBarn profile image

      JenBarn 3 years ago

      Thanks for this! I've read quite a few articles on sushi consumption while pregnant in other countries. This is great for a nice summary of what to watch for!