Can I eat sushi while pregnant?

If you’re not a big sushi eater, this one is easy, but if you love a nice slab of raw salmon like I do, this one is painful.

Here’s what I gathered: sushi can carry a parasite called anisakiasis which is a type of round worm. It can have you praying to the porcelain gods pretty quickly but I can’t find anything where it can harm a fetus (it actually looks like the treatment is more dangerous than the round worm) and, in most places in North America, it’s actually law that the fish has to be frozen beforehand which kills the parasite. Yes, you could get dehydrated from being sick but that could happen with any type of food poisoning. Why pick on raw fish?

There’s always the mercury in fish argument. Large fish seem to be the ones to steer clear from (they eat the little fish that have a little bit of mercury so it adds up to a lot more in big fish.) The NRDC publish this list of fish that would be higher in mercury (but check out the full ‘high and low’ list here)

HIGH MERCURY

Ahi (yellowfin tuna)
Aji (horse mackerel) 1
Buri (adult yellowtail) 1
Hamachi (young yellowtail) 1
Inada (very young yellowtail) 1
Kanpachi (very young yellowtail) 1
Katsuo (bonito) 1
Kajiki (swordfish)*
Maguro (bigeye*, bluefin* or yellowfin tuna)
Makjiki (blue marlin)*
Meji (young bigeye*, bluefin* or yellowfin tuna)
Saba (mackerel)
Sawara (Spanish mackerel)
Seigo (young sea bass)*
Shiro (albacore tuna)
Suzuki (sea bass)*
Toro (bigeye*, bluefin* or yellowfin tuna)

* Fish in Trouble! These fish are perilously low in numbers or are caught using environmentally destructive methods. To learn more, see the Monterey Bay Aquariumand the Blue Ocean Institute, both of which provide guides to fish to enjoy or avoid on the basis of environmental factors.

1. Mercury levels specific to these fish were not available and instead were extrapolated from fish with similar feeding patterns.

All that said, with most of my research pointed to the “rawness” of the fish making people squeamish and there seemed to be more of a prejudice against food that some people find “icky” than any major danger. 

search: anisakiasis, dangers of eating sushi, sick from eating sushi

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23 Comments

  • From motherisk.org:

    "Seafood marketed for human consumption undergoes screening for microbial contamination, thus increasing the safety of commercially available products. Cooking is the most effective method for inactivation of parasites, although flash-freezing is also effective and is often used for sushi-grade fish. Pregnant women need not avoid raw fish if it is obtained from a reputable establishment, stored properly, and consumed soon after purchase. Women should limit their consumption of high mercury fish and shellfish, including fresh tuna and yellowtail, although low mercury alternatives (eg, salmon, crab, and shrimp) can be consumed more regularly."

    Eat sushi from reputable places, not gas station sushi, and the risk is pretty low. Enjoy!

  • On a different note, if women are concerned about "sushi" as a whole group of food, they do need to realize doctors are only (usually) talking about consuming raw meat and seafood. I went the safe route and didn’t eat any of that but still had veggie rolls, tempura, gyoza, miso soup and a bunch of things that didn’t fall into that category. You can still go to a sushi restaurant and get a fix.

  • My OB said sushi is fine to eat as long as it’s from a reputable place. Which makes sense. No grocery store sushi or end-of-day discount sushi!

  • It’s not only anisakiasis but sushi can also cause Listeria (infection by a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes). But you are correct in that the concern is mainly over the preparation of sushi. In conclusion, it’s okay to eat sushi, as long as it is from a place that serves clean, fresh and well prepared food. http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/2013/01

  • My (Australian) OB said sashimi was fine, as long as it’s fresh. He said that the cold sushi rice was more likely to cause food poisoning. Great excuse to eat lots of sashimi on a Japanese holiday

  • Liz – where do you get "Yikes" from this post? Seems like you maybe didn't understand the info?

  • Yikes. Im 3 months pregnant and call me nuts but i have been craving sushi like MAD and DEVOURING it for lunch at work everyday. Then i looked this up on your blog and Im like, oh no. SO SAD. I need to find some satisfaction subsitute for this. Yikes

  • MommyToBe – I attended university in Japan and lived with 3 different families from 2000 – 2004. I don't know who you spoke with, but my host mothers were ALL told to eat more sushi during their pregnancies (and they were from different cities: Nagoya, Yokohama, Yokkaichi). However, people shouldn't be trusting your info or mine, since it's anecdotal (i.e. based on non-scientific reporting). Instead, if they search for medical articles (not websites, you have to use Google Scholar to find actual medical articles), they will see that Japanese women are encouraged to keep eating sushi during pregnancy.

    • I second that, and doctors worldwide say sushi is perfectly fine. The concern only comes with fish that isn’t fresh, but if you are eating sushi from a place that doesn’t have a good health & safety rating then that is a problem even if you aren’t pregnant.

      What I have noticed is that American doctors go extreme in forbidding many things, but the reality is they are doing so without significant empirical evidence. To be honest, these alarmist restrictions are more for the doctors then pregnant women. The doctors are performing "CYA", they are more concerned about the .0001% chance that something happens to you and then they get sued.

      My rule of thumb has been a) common sense, and b) when in doubt, read academic & scientific studies — not media articles.

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