Congratulations - you’re pregnant! You’ve packed away the skinny jeans, white wine, and ski boots. You’re not sure which is harder to manage, the nausea or the unsolicited advice. But when you’re not avoiding hot tubs or figuring out how to prevent stretch marks, you may be wondering if you also have to part ways with your favorite seafood selections. There are definitely old wives’ tales and fear-mongering memes out there warning about the dangers of seafood consumption during pregnancy. But fish is healthy, isn’t it? Let’s investigate.
First and foremost, seafood is not all the same. This category of food encompasses everything from clams to salmon to shark, and there are important differences between varieties in terms of their nutritional contribution and potential risk (to pregnant and non-pregnant people alike). Let’s start with the risk. Most of the “anti-fish” headlines stem from the possibility of their contamination with heavy metals, especially mercury. Mercury is actually present in just about all lakes, rivers, and oceans as a naturally occurring substance. It tends to hang out in a chemical form known as “methylmercury,” which can and does accumulate to some level in all types of fish. If consumed in high amounts (>0.1 microgram per kilogram of body weight per day) it can accumulate in our bodies, too, and have potentially toxic effects. So, we should run the other way from fish then, right? Not so fast. Methylmercury levels vary widely in fish, and it has quite a bit to do with the type of fish, most specifically their size and lifespan. Large, predatory fish eat other fish that have mercury in them already, and many of them roam the ocean doing this for years on end. This leads to a significantly higher amount of mercury in varieties like shark, tilefish and tuna vs. salmon, tilapia, or shrimp. Up to 200 times more mercury in some cases! The good news: there are over 20 species of small, non-predatory fish with methylmercury levels well below the threshold of safety.
Now- the benefits. Quite simply, fish is truly healthy, and contains nutrients that are critical for a nourished pregnancy. These include:
- Protein. You’re building a human. This one is a no-brainer.
- DHA/EPA. There’s been a lot of research around these healthy fats and their role in pregnancy. More to be learned, but there seems to be direct relationships with things like brain development and cognition and potential benefits to length of gestation and the health of the placenta.
- Vitamin D. Pregnancy is not the time to go light on Vitamin D. Suboptimal levels have been associated with complications at birth and beyond, including high blood pressure and preterm delivery.
- Vitamin B12. You need more B12 during pregnancy than any other time. Without it, you can’t build new cells and tissues, which is pretty necessary to creating new life.
- Iron. Pregnancy does a number on your iron stores. It’s absolutely critical to consume enough iron during pregnancy to support increased blood volume and prepare for potential blood loss.
The FDA, EPA, and US Dietary Guidelines have provided some clear, straightforward guidelines around consumption of specific types of fish that allow pregnant women to get the maximum nutrition with the lowest risk. Aim for 2-3 servings each week of the safe options, and spend your time worrying about more important things, like the fact that you may never sleep again.
PRO TIP: Check out Kroger’s Easy for You Seafood program. Simply head to the fish counter, pick out a variety and quantity of fish you like, add one of over 20 seasoning combinations, and take it home in an oven-ready bag. It’s completely free, and a great way to start eating and cooking seafood if it’s new to you.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.