Managing pregnancy cravings can be challenging, especially when you are fixating on a food that you should be avoiding. Sushi is commonly looked at as “forbidden” during pregnancy, but what happens when it’s all you crave?
Not all sushi is off-limits during pregnancy. Expecting mothers should avoid raw seafood and fish containing high levels of mercury. By choosing fully-cooked, low-mercury options, pregnant women are able to satisfy sushi cravings and benefit from its many vitamins and nutrients. Non-seafood sushi rolls may also help satisfy a craving.
Keep reading to learn more about why you are craving sushi during pregnancy and how to safely satisfy your sushi cravings.
Is it normal to crave sushi during pregnancy?
Pregnancy cravings are not well understood; however, they are extremely prevalent. According to research published in Frontiers in Psychology, 50 to 90 percent of women in the United States experience cravings for specific foods during pregnancy.
This study also points to four hypotheses for pregnancy-related cravings:
- Hormonal changes – Cravings may be due to fluctuating estrogen and progesterone hormones. These may be similar to premenstrual cravings.
- Nutritional deficits – Pregnancy can greatly increase the need for many micronutrients, such as iron, vitamin A, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, folic acid, iodine, and calcium. Cravings may help the body fulfill these needs.
- Active ingredients – Ingredients in desired food may have benefits that help alleviate symptoms of pregnancy. An example of this is methylxanthines, which are energy-boosting compounds found in chocolate.
- Cultural and psychosocial factors – Culture and region can affect the type of cravings pregnant women experience. Foods that are seen as “forbidden” or “off-limits” may be the focus of more cravings.
Some women crave strange foods, odd combinations, and even non-food items; however, most women report wanting to indulge in more familiar foods. The top ten pregnancy cravings as listed by Doylestown Women’s Health include:
- Potato Chips
- Spicy food
- Ice cream
- Red meat
- Peanut butter
Though sushi is not considered to be one of the most common pregnancy cravings, it’s a food that many women pine after during pregnancy.
Reasons for this may include:
- Sushi contains many beneficial nutrients that your body may need during pregnancy.
- Many pregnant women crave salty foods during pregnancy. Between the briny taste and vinegared rice, it is similar to one of the most common food cravings: pickles.
- Pregnancy cravings for sushi that contains ingredients that should be avoided during pregnancy (such as raw fish) may be intensified because the food is restricted.
- Food cravings vary between cultures. According to a study from Tohoku University, sushi cravings were common among Japanese females.
Is it safe to eat sushi during pregnancy?
When it comes to your pregnancy diet, not all sushi needs to be avoided.
Only sushi containing raw fish or fish that is high in mercury needs to be restricted.
Eating raw or undercooked fish can cause parasitic or bacterial infections which can be harmful to your unborn baby. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recommends only eating seafood dishes that have been cooked to 145°F. Additionally, refrigerated smoked seafood, like lox, should be cooked to 165°F to kill potentially harmful bacteria.
According to VeryWellHealth, possible infections associated with raw fish include:
- Anisakiasis, or herring worm disease, is caused by infection from parasitic worms. This can cause a great deal of damage to maternal health and can cause intrauterine growth restriction and preterm delivery.
- Vibrio, caused by infection from the bacterial species Vibrio parahaemolyticus, can lead to severe dehydration and sepsis for some vulnerable populations.
- Listeriosis is caused by infection from the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. This bacteria can pass the placenta. Severe symptoms include miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, and other life-threatening infections in babies, such as meningitis.
- Salmonella is a bacterial infection that can be passed to your unborn baby. This may cause dehydration, bacteremia, meningitis, and reactive arthritis.
The mercury level of fish and seafood is a major concern for pregnant women. Mercury is an environmental toxin with several potential sources of contamination, but the main cause of exposure is a diet with the primary contributor being fish.
According to The Embryo Project at Arizona State University, when in water, mercury is converted into methylmercury, its more toxic form. Fish can absorb methylmercury through their gills and by eating other fish that have been exposed to methylmercury. Methylmercury concentration in fish increases over time. Fish that are higher on the food chain also have higher concentrations of methylmercury.
In 2003, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) reduced the provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI) of methylmercury from 3.3 to 1.6 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. This change was in part influenced by studies showing the possible effects of prenatal exposure on a child’s neurological development.
Methylmercury can rapidly cross the blood-placenta barrier, putting an unborn baby at risk when the mother consumes methylmercury-containing fish. Minamata disease is a neurological disease caused by mercury poisoning.
Symptoms of Minamata disease include:
- Poor eye coordination
- Neck instability
- Developmental disorders
- Reflex, growth, and cerebellar deficiency
- Speech problems
- Crossed eyes
- Paroxysmal symptoms
How does sushi affect pregnancy?
Experts, including the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommend two to three servings of low-mercury, fully cooked seafood a week during pregnancy to obtain beneficial nutrients and promote healthy brain development.
Though sushi provides many health benefits, it’s important to choose fully-cooked, low mercury options, because none of the benefits outweigh the risks associated with eating raw seafood and fish that are high in mercury.
Eating sushi with raw fish can cause life-threatening bacterial and parasitic infections.
Eating sushi containing fish high in mercury can cause severe neurological damage to an unborn child.
What if you accidentally ate sushi while pregnant?
As mentioned, not all sushi is off-limits during pregnancy. If you ate sushi that contained fully-cooked, low mercury seafood, there is no cause for concern.
If you accidentally ate raw fish during pregnancy, there is no need to panic.
According to a study in the Official Publication of The College of Family Physicians of Canada, raw fish is not a large threat of foodborne illness when stored and prepared properly. If you experience diarrhea or nausea, contact your OB-GYN.
If you accidentally ate seafood containing a high level of mercury, like swordfish, there is also no immediate cause for concern. As explained by Doctors Lounge, elevated mercury levels over time are the primary concern during pregnancy. Eating a fish with high levels of mercury one time is unlikely to cause any adverse effects; just be sure to avoid high mercury seafood moving forward.
What kind of sushi is okay to eat while pregnant
While high mercury fish and uncooked seafood should be avoided during pregnancy, there are still many sushi options available for pregnant women.
If you are a seafood lover, here is a list of pregnancy-safe sushi that can be enjoyed twice a week as per the American Pregnancy Association:
Pregnancy Safe Seafood-Based Sushi
|Type of Sushi||Main Ingredient|
|Tobikko||Flying fish egg|
|Uni||Sea urchin roe|
Along with these safe seafood options, there are many non-seafood varieties of sushi that may be available in your area.
Non-seafood sushi also has the benefit of being much easier to prepare at home. Try these non-seafood options to get you through your pregnancy cravings provided by leading restaurant guide GURUNAVI:
Pregnancy Safe Plant-Based Sushi
|Type of Sushi||Main Ingredient|
|Takuan Maki||Pickled radish|
|Kampyo Maki||Pickled gourd|
|Ume, Cucumber Shiso Makizushi||Japanese pickled plum, perilla herb, and cucumber|
|Natto Temaki||Fermented soybean|
|Seaweed Gunkanmaki||Fried tofu stuffed with vinegared rice|
|Takenoko Chirashizushi||Bamboo shoots over rice|
Can you make your own sushi when pregnant?
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends pregnant or breastfeeding women consume eight to twelve ounces of seafood a week because of its nutritional benefits.
Though raw fish and fish with high mercury levels should always be avoided, making pregnancy-safe sushi can improve your health and the health of your pregnancy.
As suggested by the FDA, to ensure your seafood is thoroughly cooked:
- Cook fin fish until it reaches and an internal temperature of 145ºF.
- Cook shrimp, lobster, and crabs until the flesh is opaque and pearly.
- Cook scallops until the flesh is milky white and firm.
Here are five pregnancy-safe sushi recipes provided by the blog Baby2Body.
Can you eat fried sushi while pregnant?
Fried sushi, like tempura rolls, are safe to eat during pregnancy. Frying is a cooking method that quickly cooks food with extremely hot oil.
When done correctly, frying should kill potentially harmful bacteria found in seafood by raising its internal temperature to at least 145°F.
When eating sushi, it is always a good idea to eat at a highly rated restaurant. Check FoodSafetyNews.com to see restaurant inspections in your area. When Thoroughly cooked seafood will lose its translucency, and fully cooked fish will become flakey.
Can you eat sushi seaweed when pregnant?
Sushi is typically made with nori, a type of red seaweed, which provides many health benefits to an expecting mother and her unborn child.
Seaweed is a great source of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin C
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin K
Nori and other red and green seaweeds are safe to eat during pregnancy; however, brown seaweed should be consumed with caution.
Brown seaweed is very high in iodine. Though this can be beneficial during pregnancy, too much iodine can cause illnesses such as thyroid dysfunction. According to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), brown seaweed should be consumed no more than once a week.
Hijiki, a type of brown seaweed, may want to be avoided altogether during pregnancy, because of its high levels of inorganic arsenic.
What does it mean if you crave sushi while pregnant?
The underlying cause of pregnancy cravings is unknown.
Some hypothesize that cravings are the body’s way of getting the nutrients it needs to support a pregnancy; while others consider it to be a psychological phenomenon.
Aside from these scientific hypotheses, there are some wives’ tales surrounding pregnancy cravings.
Does craving sushi while pregnant mean it’s a boy or girl?
According to Hello Motherhood, some myths associate a pregnant woman’s cravings with the gender of her baby. For instance, if an expecting mother is craving salty, spicy, sour, or protein-rich foods, she is pregnant with a boy. By contrast, mothers who crave sweets or dairy are pregnant with girls.
According to this folklore, craving sushi would mean you’re having a boy; however, there is no scientific backing for this correlation.
If you want to learn more, I have a HUGE list of the most common pregnancy cravings just for you!