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Is Eating Shrimp Safe During Pregnancy?

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Is Shrimp Safe During Pregnancy?

Despite the scare of mercury poisoning from seafood, shrimp is found to have low mercury levels and is absolutely safe for consumption during pregnancy if cooked thoroughly (boiled or fried). Since you are more vulnerable to allergies during pregnancy, be sure to avoid eating raw shrimp and limit your intake to no more than 8-12 ounces per week.

So you are having a baby, and there are so many do’s and don’ts that you have to take note of, food being one of them. There is a common fear among expectant mothers that eating seafood, especially lobsters, crabs or shrimp, is dangerous. Some people are allergic to shellfish. To top it, there is a possible mercury contamination you could be exposed to through seafood which can lead to the lower birth weight of the baby.

According to a study by The American Society of Nutrition done between 2009 – 20101 it was seen that women were not sure about eating fish–a rich source of DHA–during pregnancy even though DHA is known as an essential nutrient needed for the healthy growth of the baby. The research further showed that none of the women participants of the study had been advised about eating seafood and fish, and what type or amount they should eat. Since most feared mercury (a neurotoxin) contamination, they preferred to not eat seafood at all.

Prenatal Mercury Exposure Is Harmful

We’re not surprised why they chose not to eat seafood. Due to our ecological and environmental conditions, mercury gets collected in the seas and oceans, lakes, rivers and streams. Once in these water bodies, mercury turns into a neurotoxin, methylmercury. The fish and sea life in these water bodies absorb this toxic element in small quantities. So when we eat fish from these sources, this neurotoxin finds its way into our bodies. The same goes for expecting mothers. In fact, methylmercury has been proven to have a major impact on the nervous system of the unborn child.

According to a study by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, exposure to mercury because of the expecting mother’s dietary habits can lead to children developing serious issues like cerebral palsy and loss of intelligence, weak kidneys, and nervous system. Mercury exposure before birth also leads to children having low IQ, attention, and memory problems as well as visual-spatial perception problems.2

So, Is It Safe To Eat Shrimp During Pregnancy?

Take heart. Eating shrimp during pregnancy is absolutely safe. This is because shrimp, along with other seafood like salmon, tilapia, cod, tuna, and catfish, is considered a low-mercury seafood. But avoid high-mercury seafood like swordfish, shark and king mackerel at all costs during pregnancy.3 A study was done to determine if shrimp is actually a low-mercury food and it was found that shrimp is not just a low-mercury food and absolutely safe to eat, it is also low in fat and high in protein.4 In fact, if you are pregnant you must include shrimp in your diet due to its health benefits.

Why We Say Pregnant Women Must Have Shrimp

Good Source Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Shrimp has been proven to be the second most important source of omega-3 fatty acids.5 Two most important omega 3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is important for growing fetus as it supports brain growth and development of central nervous system and eyes. A study on maternal fish and seafood consumption and fetal growth shows that mothers who eat a regular portion of seafood or fish give birth to children with better infant cognition.6 However, our bodies are not able to synthesize these essential fatty acids naturally, and we do need external sources. That is why nutrition experts advise that pregnant and lactating women consume a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA.7

High In Protein, Amino Acids

Did you know three-fourths of the edible portion of shrimp is water? That’s not all. Nearly 80 percent of the remaining portion is protein. Fresh shrimp contains 19.4 g/100 g of protein. Shrimp is also found to be rich in essential amino acids, those amino acids that have to be obtained from external sources.8

Plenty Of Essential Vitamins And Minerals

Macro minerals refer to minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and sodium which the human body needs in abundance. They play important roles in the body such as ensuring bone health and regulating enzyme production and maintaining fluid balance. A 100 g serving of shrimp gives more than 100 mg of calcium, 300 mg of phosphorus, and 40 μg (microgram) of selenium. Shrimp is also found to be rich in vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and certain B vitamins like vitamin B12 and B3.9

How About The High Cholesterol Content In Shrimps?

It’s true that maintaining a healthy lipid profile is very important during pregnancy. Shrimp is low in fat but is found to have high cholesterol content which has been a concern for many. In a study conducted to test the effect of cholesterol from shrimp when added to a diet low in fat and also to compare the effect of dietary cholesterol in shrimp on the lipoprotein profile of people with normal lipid count in their blood, however, showed that moderate shrimp consumption did not change the lipoprotein profile of people with normal lipid count. In short, shrimp is a heart healthy food.10

The Right Way To Eat Shrimp

Since you are more vulnerable to allergies and stomach-related issues during pregnancy, it is important to avoid eating raw seafood like shrimp. Ensure that it is cooked well – boiled or fried rather than steamed. Do remove the scales thoroughly and clean the shrimp well before cooking. This way, you reduce the risk of food poisoning.11

To get real benefit naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids, ensure that you eat at least 8 to 12 ounces of fish and shellfish like shrimp per week.12.

So we find that is it completely safe to eat shrimp during pregnancy, and in fact, makes for a healthy food choice that helps in the growth of the baby.

References   [ + ]

1. Bloomingdale, Arienne, Lauren B. Guthrie, Sarah Price, Robert O. Wright, Deborah Platek, Jess Haines, and Emily Oken. “A qualitative study of fish consumption during pregnancy.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 92, no. 5 (2010): 1234-1240.
2. Trasande, Leonardo, Philip J. Landrigan, and Clyde Schechter. “Public health and economic consequences of methyl mercury toxicity to the developing brain.” Environmental health perspectives (2005): 590-596.
3. Mercury Levels in Fish, American Pregnancy Organisation
4. Nelson, Sarah J., and Catherine Schmitt. “Healthy, Sustainable Seafood: A Study of Mercury in Shrimp.”.
5. Mahaffey, Kathryn R., Robert P. Clickner, and Rebecca A. Jeffries. “Methylmercury and omega-3 fatty acids: co-occurrence of dietary sources with emphasis on fish and shellfish.” Environmental Research 107, no. 1 (2008): 20-29.
6. Oken, Emily, Robert O. Wright, Ken P. Kleinman, David Bellinger, Chitra J. Amarasiriwardena, Howard Hu, Janet W. Rich-Edwards, and Matthew W. Gillman. “Maternal Fish Consumption, Hair Mercury, and Infant Cognition in a U.S. Cohort.” Environmental Health Perspectives 113, no. 10 (2005): 1376-380.
7. Omega-3 Fish Oil and Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Organisation
8, 9. Dayal, J. Syama, A. G. Ponniah, H. Imran Khan, EP Madhu Babu, K. Ambasankar, and KP Kumarguru Vasagam. “Shrimps–a nutritional perspective.” CURRENT SCIENCE 104, no. 11 (2013): 1487.
10. e Silva, ER De Oliveira, Cynthia E. Seidman, Jason J. Tian, Lisa C. Hudgins, Frank M. Sacks, and Jan L. Breslow. “Effects of shrimp consumption on plasma lipoproteins.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 64, no. 5 (1996): 712-717.
11. Shellfish during pregnancy, NHS.
12. Eating shrimp during pregnancy, American Pregnancy Organisation.