Pregnancy and food no-nos

New caution about eating fish when expecting

New caution about eating fish when expecting

June 19, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

There's a long list of dos and don'ts for pregnant women. Consumer Reports recently recommending a new don't - tuna of any kind.

Fish is an important source of protein that is low in saturated fat and high in nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids. But some fish should be avoided by pregnant women due to their high mercury content, and other fish, with lower mercury levels, should be eaten in limited quantities.

Mercury can harm an unborn baby's developing nervous system and could result in cognitive disorders or impairments or slow learning, says Urvashi Rangan, senior scientist with Consumer Reports.

The Food and Drug Administration has suggested pregnant women eat no more than 6 ounces of canned albacore or white tuna fish a week and no more than 12 ounces of canned light tuna a week.


Earlier this month Consumer Reports announced it had studied FDA data concerning the amount of mercury in canned light tuna and recommended pregnant women steer clear of tuna altogether.

That means canned tuna or filets, Rangan says.

Consumer Reports found most canned light tuna contained less mercury, on average, than canned albacore tuna. However, sometimes light-tuna samples had more mercury than canned albacore.

Rangan says there's enough variability in the amount of mercury in canned tuna that consumers just don't know what they're getting when they buy it.

The FDA issued a statement June 6 advising consumers that its previous 2004 advisory concerning mercury in fish and shellfish remains current. That advisory states eating tuna fish - light or albacore - is recommended in limited amounts for pregnant women, women who might become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children.

The American Pregnancy Association, an education and research organization, is not taking a stance on whether pregnant women should eat tuna fish, APA President Brad Imler says. The association makes different research about that topic and others available at its Web site,

For pregnant women concerned about mercury in tuna fish, Imler suggests an alternative such as freshwater trout. Freshwater trout is among the fish with the lowest mercury levels, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council's Web site.

"It's always better to be safe than sorry," Imler says. The likelihood of a problem developing because of eating one can of tuna is low. But if complications with the fetus arise, the mother is going to feel guilty about eating tuna even though tuna might not have been the cause, he says.

Other foods to watch

According to experts, there are several other foods pregnant women should avoid eating. Some of the potential dangers of eating these foods include listeria, toxoplasmosis and methylmercury, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

While these might not make the mother feel very sick, they could have a severe effect on the fetus, according to

According to the FDA, the APA and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), these are foods pregnant women should avoid:

  • Raw meat. Rare or uncooked beef or poultry or uncooked seafood. The risk is contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis and salmonella. Toxoplasma is a parasite that can be in raw or undercooked pork, lamb or venison as well as contaminated water and cat litter.

    The ACOG recommends avoiding seared fish served rare, ceviche and sushi and anything prepared tartare. Vegetarian sushi or sushi with cooked seafood rather than raw is OK to eat.

    The group also recommends eating beef only if prepared well-done so there is no pink.

  • Hot dogs and lunch meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot.

  • Soft cheeses such as feta, brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, queso blanco, queso fresco or panela, unless they are made with pasteurized milk.

  • Fish high in mercury. Do not eat swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel or shark.

  • Raw sprouts, including radishes, alfalfa, clover and mung bean. Bacteria can enter sprout seeds through cracks in the shell, making the bacteria hard to wash out. When eating out, ask that raw sprouts not be added to your food such as sandwiches and salads.

  • Unpasteurized milk.

  • Unpasteurized juices. Freshly squeezed juices might not be pasteurized or treated to ensure safety.

  • Raw or undercooked eggs. These may be used in foods like Caesar dressing, custards, mayonnaise, homemade ice cream, Hollandaise sauces and unpasteurized eggnog. The potential danger is salmonella.

  • Refrigerated pat or meat spreads.

  • Alcohol. Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy might lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or other developmental disorders.

  • Caffeine. The APA recommends avoiding caffeine during pregnancy. For those who cannot resist it entirely, different researchers recommend limiting daily caffeine intake to less than 150 to 300 mg, APA President Brad Imler says.

Some studies have suggested that consuming a lot of caffeine might be related to miscarriages, preterm delivery and low birth weight, according to the ACOG.

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