If you are pregnant then you probably don’t need me to tell you the importance of making wise dietary choices, because the foods you consume could directly affect the health and development of your unborn child.
But what about tuna? Does eating this fish pose any potential risks to pregnant women?
In this article, we will look at the benefits and risks of eating tuna during your pregnancy, as well as the best ways to prepare and enjoy this delicious fish in order to keep you and your unborn baby safe.
Table of Contents
Benefits of Tuna During Pregnancy
Tuna is a nutrient-rich fish that offers numerous health benefits.
It is an excellent source of essential nutrients that can support the well-being of both pregnant women and their developing babies.
Some of the key benefits of consuming tuna during pregnancy include:
- High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Tuna is renowned for its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fatty acids are crucial for fetal brain and eye development. They also help reduce the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.
- High in Protein: Tuna is a great source of high-quality protein, which is essential for the growth and development of the baby, as well as maintaining the health of the mother.
- Packed with Vitamins and Minerals: Tuna is rich in essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, and selenium, all of which are important for bone health, immune system function, and overall well-being.
- Low in Saturated Fat: Tuna is relatively low in saturated fat, which makes it a heart-healthy choice for pregnant women, as it helps maintain cardiovascular health.
- High in Iron: Tuna provides a significant amount of iron, which is important for preventing anemia during pregnancy.
Risks & Dangers of Consuming Tuna During Pregnancy
While tuna offers numerous health benefits, it also comes with some risks and dangers, particularly when it comes to pregnancy.
The primary concerns regarding tuna consumption during pregnancy are related to mercury content and potential contamination.
Here are 5 things that pregnant women need to be aware of:
- High Mercury Content: Tuna, especially larger and older species like albacore (white) tuna, can contain relatively high levels of mercury. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that can be harmful to the developing nervous system of a fetus. Excessive mercury exposure during pregnancy has been linked to developmental delays, cognitive impairments, and other adverse effects.
- Contaminants: Tuna can also be contaminated with environmental pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins. These contaminants can accumulate in the fish’s fat and pose potential health risks when consumed in large quantities.
- Methylmercury: Methylmercury, a form of mercury, can cross the placenta and accumulate in the developing fetus. It is this form of mercury that poses the greatest risk to the baby’s neurological development.
- Allergic Reactions: Some pregnant women may be allergic to seafood, including tuna. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe and may have serious consequences for both the mother and the unborn child.
- Foodborne Illness: If not prepared and stored properly, tuna can carry the risk of foodborne illnesses such as salmonella and listeria, which can be particularly harmful during pregnancy due to the weakened immune system.
Types of Tuna
To make an informed decision about consuming tuna during pregnancy, it’s also important to understand the different types of tuna available, and particularly their mercury content.
The four primary types of tuna are:
Albacore Tuna (White Tuna)
Albacore tuna is known for its mild flavor and tender texture.
However, as it tends to have higher mercury levels compared to other types of tuna, it’s advisable to consume it in moderation during pregnancy.
Yellowfin tuna, often found in sushi and sashimi, contains less mercury than albacore tuna, making it a safer choice, but moderation is still key.
Keep in mind that eating sushi and sashimi are best avoided during pregnancy – more on this in a moment.
Skipjack tuna is typically used in canned tuna products.
It has lower mercury levels compared to albacore, making it perhaps the best type of tuna to eat during pregnancy.
Bigeye tuna, like albacore, can have higher mercury levels, so it’s best to limit consumption during pregnancy.
Raw vs. Cooked Tuna
One common question among moms-to-be is whether pregnant women can consume raw tuna, such as the type found in sushi and sashimi.
Eating raw tuna, just like other raw fish, increases your risk of getting a foodborne illness such as listeria, salmonella, and parasites.
These types of illnesses can be dangerous for both you and your unborn baby, so it’s therefore best to avoid eating raw tuna, tuna sushi, or tuna sashimi while you are pregnant.
Pregnant women should therefore stick to eating only cooked tuna while expecting, because cooking the fish greatly eliminates the risk of getting any of the foodborne illnesses mentioned above.
How To Safely Enjoy Tuna While Pregnant
To enjoy the wonderful health benefits of tuna while minimizing the associated risks, you should consider the following guidelines:
- Moderation: Limit your consumption of high-mercury tuna varieties like albacore and bigeye. Stick to moderate or low-mercury options like skipjack or yellowfin tuna.
- Cooked Tuna: Opt for thoroughly cooked tuna, such as grilled, baked, or canned tuna, to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. In practice, this means cooking tuna to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius), which will ensure that the tuna is cooked thoroughly and that any harmful bacteria are killed.
- Safe Storage: Ensure that any cooked or canned tuna is stored at safe temperatures to prevent bacterial contamination.
- Source: Choose reputable sources for your tuna and verify the quality and freshness (particularly important when dining out).
- Consult Your Healthcare Provider: When in doubt, it’s a good idea to discuss your dietary choices with your midwife or other healthcare provider, because they can provide personalized advice based on your specific health and nutritional needs.
Tuna is a nutrient-rich fish that provides essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamins, making it an excellent food choice for most pregnant women.
However, the mercury content and potential contamination pose potential dangers to the developing fetus, so pregnant women should opt for low-mercury varieties like skipjack or yellowfin, and cook their tuna thoroughly to reduce bacterial risks.
Doing so will enable you to enjoy the benefits of this fantastic food while keeping potential risks at bay.