Food cravings are one of the most well-known phenomena of pregnancy.
Despite these cravings, you should be aware there are quite a few foods that should be avoided during pregnancy.
This is to ensure the health of both you and your baby.
Australia has diverse food options, and sushi is a meal many Australians enjoy regularly.
What if your food craving during pregnancy is sushi?
Have you ever been caught out at the counter of your local sushi shop frantically scrolling Google to find an answer to the question: Can pregnant women eat sushi?
Here are the answers to the top 6 questions about eating sushi while pregnant.
#1: Can you eat sushi when pregnant (Australia)?
Australian health experts recommend women don’t eat sushi while pregnant, due to the risk of contamination with listeria.
Any raw fish, undercooked fish, smoked fish or seafood is considered unsafe for consumption.
Listeria is a type of bacteria that can contaminate food and cause listeriosis.
Listeriosis is a serious condition that can infect a pregnant woman’s, unborn baby.
It can result in miscarriage or stillbirth.
For more information please read Listeria and Pregnancy – What You Need To Know About Listeria.
Foods associated with listeria contamination include those that aren’t thoroughly cooked before consumption and those with a long shelf-life under refrigeration.
Sushi can contain uncooked or undercooked seafood, and it’s often consumed after long periods of refrigeration.
#2: Can you eat chicken sushi when pregnant?
It’s also advised pregnant women avoid sushi with any other fillings that haven’t been freshly prepared.
During pregnancy, it’s recommended to avoid eating refrigerated, ready-to-eat products that might have been stored for long periods.
No cold meats (including chicken) purchased from fast-food shops are considered safe for consumption during pregnancy.
Thoroughly cooked chicken (and other meat), eaten while hot is safe for pregnant women to eat.
#3: Can pregnant women eat Californian rolls?
Californian rolls are a type of sushi that often contain cold, processed meats or fish, such as crab sticks.
They aren’t considered safe foods for a pregnant woman to consume.
Some Californian rolls contain only vegetable-based fillings. These are fine for consumption, provided you’re absolutely certain they’ve been prepared using suitable hygienic processes – that is, prepared by you in your own home.
Because it’s impossible to be totally confident about food handling processes in any restaurant or fast-food outlet, it’s also wise to avoid sushi rolls containing only vegetables – unless you have prepared them yourself.
#4: Can pregnant women eat seaweed?
There are certain types of seaweed that contain high levels of iodine. Although iodine is an important mineral for pregnancy and breastfeeding, too much can be potentially harmful, especially if you’re already taking iodine as a supplement.
The seaweeds associated with high levels of iodine are kelp, wakame, quandai-cai and arame. They are usually sold dried for use in soups and stews.
The black seaweed – Nori seaweed – popularly used in Californian sushi rolls is considered safe to consume during pregnancy.
#5: Do Japanese eat sushi while pregnant?
Japanese women generally don’t stop eating sushi while pregnant. In fact, raw fish is considered safe to eat and seen as good prenatal nutrition in Japan.
Different countries have different food safety and handling guidelines. For that reason, it’s important to follow only the guidelines of the country in which you are living.
In Japan, there are specific guidelines for women who choose to continue to eat raw fish and sushi while pregnant. These guidelines included recommendations such as the best day to purchase sushi, and which fishmongers to choose, to avoid the risks associated with listeriosis.
These guidelines aren’t relevant in other countries.
#6: I ate sushi when pregnant – what should I do?
If you’ve accidentally eaten sushi while pregnant, or maybe indulged in anything else from the ‘no-go’ list before you found out you were pregnant, try not to panic.
Lots of mamas-to-be have accidentally or unknowingly consumed something that isn’t recommended to eat while pregnant, and have gone on to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.
The key is to avoid risk as much as possible and talk to your doctor about your concerns.
Your care provider will be able to answer any questions you have and guide you through safe practices to follow for the remainder of your pregnancy.
#7: Can you eat sushi rice when pregnant?
Although it would be reasonable to think eating rice is safe during pregnancy, the problem with sushi rice isn’t the rice itself.
Just like vegetarian or cooked versions of sushi, it’s the storage and handling processes that make it not safe to eat.
Whether or not sushi is made with raw fish, it still has the potential to cause food poisoning.
Cooked sushi rice could have been stored for several days by the time people consume it. There is a potential risk that listeria growth has reached dangerous levels during that time.
Safer alternatives to sushi during pregnancy
You can prepare vegetable sushi rolls at home without using raw or undercooked seafood, fish or meat, and safely eat them while you’re pregnant.
If that seems way too hard (have you tried rolling those things?), there are some safe alternatives to eating sushi.
Seafood is a safe and nutritious food to eat while you are pregnant, providing it’s stored, handled and prepared correctly.
Many types of fish and seafood contain omega-3 DHA, also known as Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids help your baby’s brain development.
Fish and seafood safe for consumption during pregnancy include:
- Freshly cooked fish, such as salmon (1-3 serves per week)
- Freshly cooked shellfish, such as prawns or lobster (1-3 serves per week)
- Canned fish, such as yellowfin tuna or albacore tuna (1-3 serves per week).
The following seafood are also considered safe for consumption during pregnancy, but should be limited to 1 serve per fortnight, with no other seafood consumed in the same fortnight:
- Shark (flake)
- Blue marlin
- Orange roughy (sea perch)
These are fish that can potentially contain high levels of mercury. Mercury can accumulate in your body and therefore it’s not recommended to eat these types of fish often while you are pregnant.
These types of fish and seafood are safe, provided you eat only the recommended number of serves:
- Razor shell clam (no more than 3 times per week)
- King mackerel (the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise you choose a fish lower in mercury, such as Spanish mackerel)
- Horse mackerel (the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise you choose a fish lower in mercury, such as Spanish mackerel)
- Sea bass (limit to 1 serving per week).
How to avoid listeria during pregnancy
There are lots of recommendations about what to avoid during pregnancy, and sometimes this information can be contradictory. This leaves pregnant women confused as to what they can and can’t eat.
All women who are pregnant want to protect their growing baby, so it’s helpful to know which foods have the potential to cause harm to your unborn child.
Foods most commonly associated with listeria contamination include the following:
- Raw seafood or fish
- Raw or undercooked meat or poultry
- Unpasteurized milk and milk products (i.e. soft cheeses)
- Unpasteurized juice
- Deli meats
- Premade deli salads
- Unwashed fruit and vegetables.
If you’re unsure whether a certain food is safe, it’s best to check a reputable website such as Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand or The Royal Women’s Hospital (Australia) for clarification.
Certain websites might claim sushi or other foods are safe for consumption during pregnancy. For that reason, it’s important to only follow the guidelines from a reputable website in the country where you are living.
BellyBelly’s article What Foods Can You Eat During Pregnancy? dispels some common myths about foods that actually are safe, which are sometimes recommended to be avoided.