If you are one of the many women who are still feeling confused about whether or not seafood is safe during pregnancy, you're not alone. It can be difficult to keep straight how much to consume and which varieties are safe to eat. The potential dangers to mother and baby lie in the high levels of mercury found in certain varieties of fish, but pregnant mothers shouldn't avoid seafood altogether, because both you and your baby can benefit from the nutrients in it.
To make things easier for all of us, the FDA recently updated its guidelines around seafood consumption during pregnancy. And, to help make sense of these new guidelines, POPSUGAR spoke with dietitians Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, founder of Foodtrainers and the author of the book The Little Book of Thin and Carolyn Brown, MS, RD, also a dietician at Foodtrainers, two women who are well-versed in the importance of good nutrition and the impact it can have on overall health.
What should pregnant women avoid when eating seafood?
The most troublesome toxin present in seafood is mercury. "Certain foods that may be fine for people who aren't expecting can be problematic for expectant mothers because the fetus is so small and growing at such a fast pace," Slayton told POPSUGAR. "Mercury toxicity can lead to neurological issues for a developing fetus." While trace amounts of mercury can be present in all types of seafood, only certain varieties contain enough mercury to cause potential problems. Large fish, especially those that eat other fish, like tuna, swordfish, shark, mackerel, and marlin, store the highest levels of mercury.
Which nutrients in seafood are most important for pregnant women?
Aside from being a good source of protein, seafood provides a few nutrients that are hard to find in other food sources. Minerals like selenium, iron, and iodine, as well as vitamins A and D, are abundant in fish and aid in the baby's development during pregnancy. "You always want to turn to food sources of vitamins and minerals first. These nutrients work in synergy, complimenting each other and working together to give mother and baby optimal levels of nutrition," Brown said. Possibly the most important nutrient that you can get from seafood is DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that "aids in visual and cognitive development and may even reduce the instance of allergies after your child is born."
How much seafood should women consume during pregnancy?
According to the FDA, pregnant women should aim to consume at least eight ounces of seafood per week. "Two four-ounce servings per week is the minimum that we would recommend to our clients. Three or four is even better," Slayton and Brown said. Keeping in mind that you want to minimize mercury exposure, Slayton and Brown recommend eating seafood from a variety of the sources that the FDA has found to be the "best choices." (This includes anchovy, sea bass, crab, salmon, and more.) Making a sandwich with canned light tuna once or twice a week and having wild-caught salmon for dinner one evening per week will get you the health-boosting benefits that seafood can provide.
How can pregnant women find high-quality seafood?
"If you want to get the highest quality, look for wild-caught Alaskan seafood. Wild-caught is always going to be better because they have room to grow, swim, and eat as fish are meant to," Slayton advised. Because of their pristine, glacier-fed waters, Alaskan seafood, such as salmon, cod, and pollock have among the lowest levels of contaminants that could be dangerous to pregnant women. Slayton's final bit of advice: never let safety concerns cause you to cut out a food altogether. "In any category, don't skip a food group entirely. Instead, do your due diligence, talk to your healthcare provider, and look for the highest quality you can find."