Can You Eat Sushi While Pregnant?

Sushi is known as a forbidden food during pregnancy, thanks to concerns about mercury levels and bacterial contamination. But just how dangerous is sushi—and is there a safe way to satisfy your cravings while pregnant?

Woman eating sushi on couch while pregnant
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As if morning sickness and ligament pain weren't bad enough, pregnant people must also give up some of their favorite foods and drinks—from coffee and alcohol to cold cuts and soft cheese. Sadly, sushi also lands on most official "don't" lists. But are you still able to satisfy your sushi cravings without putting your developing baby at risk? Here's what experts and organizations have to say.

The Problem With Sushi During Pregnancy

If you're craving a spicy tuna roll, you might be tempted to visit your local sushi restaurant. But guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is clear: People should avoid uncooked sushi during pregnancy. The organizations say to stay away from raw or undercooked seafood dishes altogether, which includes sushi and sashimi as well as ceviche and raw oysters, clams, and scallops.

Raw sushi and uncooked seafood may contain parasites or bacteria that increase your risk of foodborne illness. This is especially concerning because pregnancy weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off these illnesses. Indeed, pregnant people are 10 times more likely than others to get a listeria infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Listeria has been linked to preterm labor, stillbirth, and miscarriage. Certain foodborne illnesses—including listeria and Toxoplasma gondii—can infect the fetus even if you don't feel sick.

The American Pregnancy Association (APA) points out another big issue with many types of sushi: mercury levels. Babies exposed to mercury in the womb can have problems with their hearing, vision, and brain. Many types of fish commonly used in sushi have high mercury levels, including ahi (yellowfin tuna), shiro (albacore tuna), and saba (mackerel). Follow the FDA's guidelines if you're unsure what types of fish are safest to eat.

Choosing Safe Sushi While Pregnant

Don't put down your chopsticks just yet—you can still enjoy some sushi during pregnancy. It just has to be the right kind. Most experts agree that sushi without raw fish is safe during pregnancy, as long as it's prepared in a sanitary environment. That means veggie rolls, California rolls, and shrimp tempura rolls get the green light.

In general, fish is considered a very healthy option during pregnancy. The FDA notes that fish contains many nutrients that can help your baby's cognitive development, as well as the development of their spinal cord and immune system.

If you're a sushi lover, eating cooked options can be a great way to hit your recommended weekly fish intake. Just choose lower mercury varieties like sake (salmon), unagi (freshwater eel), uni (sea urchin roe), kani (crab), and tako (octopus), recommends the APA.

The Bottom Line

If your pregnancy cravings include sushi, it's not a good idea to grab an uncooked roll from any random place. There are real risks to consuming the wrong kind of sushi during pregnancy—both to you and your unborn child. That said, you don't have to completely give up sushi while expecting. You'll just have to be more selective about which rolls you choose; cooked varieties with lower mercury levels are best.

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