Eating mussels and clams can be safe during pregnancy as long as they are fresh, thoroughly cooked, and consumed in moderation. However, there are some risks to be aware of when eating these bivalve shellfish while pregnant.
– Mussels and clams can be risky to eat raw or undercooked when pregnant due to bacteria and viruses. Always thoroughly cook them.
– Avoid eating mussels and clams from questionable sources. Only eat ones that came from reputable, trusted sellers and restaurants.
– It’s generally safe to eat mussels and clams 2-3 times per week when pregnant. Avoid consuming them daily.
– Pregnant women are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses. Use caution when eating higher risk foods like mussels and clams.
– Mussels and clams are a good source of nutrients like protein, iron, vitamin B12, and omega-3s to support pregnancy. But balance intake with other healthy foods too.
Are Mussels and Clams Safe to Eat During Pregnancy?
Mussels and clams can be safe to eat during pregnancy when properly handled and prepared. The main concern with eating these bivalves when pregnant is the risk of foodborne illness from bacteria and viruses.
Mussels and clams are filter feeders meaning they filter water through their system to get food and nutrients. In the process, they can accumulate harmful bacteria, viruses, toxins, and parasites if the water they came from was contaminated.
When you eat mussels or clams raw or undercooked, you also ingest anything in their system. This poses health risks even for healthy adults but even more so for pregnant women and their developing baby.
Risks of Eating Raw Mussels and Clams
Eating raw or undercooked mussels and clams comes with a few risks:
- Vibrio bacteria – Causes vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain
- Norovirus – Leads to intestinal infection, vomiting, diarrhea
- Hepatitis A virus – Causes liver infection and inflammation
- Salmonella – Triggers diarrhea, fever, cramps
- Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) – Neurotoxin causes tingling, paralysis, respiratory failure
Foodborne illnesses can cause dehydration, malnutrition, and hospitalization which can harm a growing baby. Some bacteria like Listeria are especially concerning during pregnancy as they can infect the fetus leading to miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth, or birth defects.
How to Eat Mussels and Clams Safely During Pregnancy
To reduce the risks, it’s essential to follow key food safety guidelines when eating mussels and clams while pregnant:
- Only eat mussels and clams that are thoroughly cooked through until the shells open
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked mussels and clams
- When cooking mussels or clams, discard any with unopened shells after cooking as they could harbor bacteria
- Purchase mussels and clams from reputable sellers, grocers, and restaurants you trust
- Check that mussel and clam shells are not damaged or broken before cooking
- Cook and consume mussels and clams within 2 days of purchasing for best quality and safety
- Store mussels and clams in the refrigerator until ready to cook
- Do not eat mussels or clams that look or smell bad
Following proper handling, cooking, and storage guidelines minimizes risks and makes mussels and clams safer to consume during pregnancy.
How Much is Safe to Eat When Pregnant?
Eating mussels and clams in moderation is recommended when pregnant. Having 2-3 servings per week is generally considered safe.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 8-12 ounces of seafood per week during pregnancy. This includes mussels, clams, fish, shrimp, etc. Eating up to 12 ounces (3-4 servings) can help you meet your needs for healthy omega-3 fats for fetal brain development.
At the same time, eating too many mussels or clams could increase exposure to mercury, a heavy metal that can harm your baby’s nervous system.
Serving Size Examples
- 2-3 ounces of mussels or clams 2-3 times per week
- 1 cup of clam chowder 2 times per week
- 12 steamed mussels once a week
- 1 6-ounce serving of pasta with clam sauce once a week
This allows you to get beneficial nutrients from mussels and clams while limiting potential risks from frequent consumption. It’s smart to include a variety of seafood in your diet like salmon, sardines, shrimp, and cod as well.
Nutrition Benefits of Mussels and Clams
Mussels and clams can provide several beneficial nutrients for you and your baby during pregnancy when eaten in moderation. Some of the top nutrients these bivalves offer include:
Mussels and clams are an excellent source of high-quality protein providing around 16-20 grams in a 3 ounce cooked serving. Protein is vital for supporting fetal growth and development during pregnancy as well as maintaining maternal health.
Mussels and clams are fairly high in iron with around 2-5 milligrams per serving. Iron carries oxygen to your baby and supports their rapid growth and development. Iron needs increase substantially during pregnancy so mussels and clams can help you meet them.
Mussels and clams are among the richest food sources of vitamin B12 providing around 16-100 mcg per serving. Vitamin B12 supports nerve tissue health for baby’s brain development and helps produce red blood cells.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Mussels and clams provide omega-3 fats EPA and DHA that support fetal brain, nerve, and eye development. A 3-ounce serving contains around 500-800 milligrams.
Zinc is needed for immune function, growth, and development of the fetus. A serving of mussels or clams offers around 1-2 milligrams of this mineral.
This antioxidant mineral supports your immune system during pregnancy. Mussels and clams provide around 47 micrograms per serving.
Overall, mussels and clams supply a nutritious package of protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3s for pregnancy health when part of a balanced diet.
Healthiest Ways to Eat Mussels and Clams
Here are some nutritious and delicious ways to eat mussels and clams while pregnant:
Steam fresh mussels in a little broth and garlic until they open. Sprinkle with parsley and lemon juice. Serve with whole grain bread for dipping the broth.
Stuff opened clams with breadcrumbs, bacon, lemon juice, and parmesan cheese. Bake until bubbly and enjoy this protein-packed appetizer.
Whip up a creamy, comforting clam chowder loaded with potatoes, veggies, and clams. Use low-fat milk and a light touch with butter or oil.
Simmer mussels in a chunky marinara sauce over pasta. Add spinach or kale for extra nutrition. Use whole wheat pasta.
Make a seafood salad with canned clams, shrimp, crab meat, celery, onion, lemon juice, and Greek yogurt dressing. Serve on greens or in a whole grain pita.
Toss cooked linguine with clams, olive oil, garlic, white wine, and a pinch of red pepper flakes for a quick, satisfying entree.
The key is to use healthy cooking methods like steaming, baking, or sautéing instead of deep frying. Pair seafood with plenty of veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds for a well-rounded pregnancy diet.
Risks of Eating Too Much When Pregnant
Although low mercury seafood like mussels and clams are safer options, eating large amounts does come with some risks during pregnancy including:
- Mercury exposure – Consuming high quantities of seafood substantially raises mercury intake which can damage the fetal nervous system.
- Foodborne illness – The more raw or undercooked seafood eaten, the greater the changes of contracting an illness from bacteria or viruses.
- Excess vitamin A – Very high intakes of preformed vitamin A from animal foods like clams may cause birth defects, though this is rare.
- Iodine excess – Seafood is high in iodine which is generally beneficial during pregnancy but too much can trigger thyroid problems in sensitive women.
This is why it’s wise to stick to recommended 2-3 servings per week of low mercury seafood when pregnant rather than eating it daily.
Safer Alternatives to Raw Seafood When Pregnant
Raw or undercooked seafood is best avoided during pregnancy. Here are some safer alternatives:
- Cooked mussels, clams, shrimp, canned fish
- Cooked salmon, cod, tilapia, trout
- Tuna salad made with canned light tuna
- Vegetarian sushi rolls or sashimi
- Ceviche made with cooked seafood
- Smoked salmon from trusted source
- Crab cakes, seafood bisque, boiled crawfish
Always make sure any pre-cooked seafood you eat is heated until steaming hot. Use pasteurized crabmeat. Opt for seafood high in healthy omega-3s but lower in mercury like salmon, anchovies, trout, and Atlantic mackerel.
Contaminants to Watch Out For
When eating seafood in pregnancy, there are a few key contaminants to be mindful of:
Seafood is the main dietary source of mercury. Some types like tilefish, shark, swordfish, and bigeye tuna have much higher levels. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can impair fetal brain development when consumed in high amounts. To minimize risk, avoid eating high mercury fish and limit lower mercury varieties like mussels to 2-3 servings per week.
PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls are industrial chemicals that have polluted many waterways. They can accumulate in seafood and may disrupt fetal and child development. Avoid eating fish caught from contaminated waters and follow local fish consumption advisories.
|Seafood Low in Mercury||Seafood High in Mercury|
|Atlantic Mackerel||Orange Roughy|
Seafood may contain parasites like worms that can infect humans when eaten raw or undercooked. Freezing can kill any parasites. Cook all seafood thoroughly until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 145°F to destroy any parasites.
Harmful bacteria like Listeria, Vibrio, Salmonella, and E. coli can contaminate raw seafood and shellfish. Cook seafood thoroughly to kill bacteria. For shellfish, discard any unopened shells after cooking.
Toxic algal blooms can produce neurotoxins that concentrate in shellfish like mussels and clams.cook shellfish thoroughly and avoid eating anything from contaminated waters. Buy only from reputable sellers.
Key Takeaways on Eating Mussels and Clams During Pregnancy
Here are the key takeaways on consuming mussels and clams when pregnant:
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked mussels and clams which pose a high risk of foodborne illnesses.
- Mussels and clams are safe to eat when thoroughly cooked and purchased from reputable sources.
- Limit intake to 2-3 servings per week as part of a balanced pregnancy diet to get beneficial nutrients while minimizing risks.
- Steaming, baking, sautéing, and broiling are healthy ways to prepare mussels and clams.
- Always practice proper food handling, cooking, and storage precautions.
- Be mindful of potential contaminants like mercury, bacteria, and toxins when eating seafood.
Incorporating safe seafood like mussels and clams as part of an overall healthy diet can provide important benefits for mom and baby during pregnancy. Just be sure to take necessary precautions for a worry-free seafood experience.
Mussels and clams can be a nutritious addition to your diet during pregnancy when enjoyed in moderation. Eating 2-3 servings per week of thoroughly cooked mussels or clams is considered safe for most healthy pregnant women. This level of intake allows you to gain benefits from their nutrition without overdoing contaminants like mercury.
However, it’s essential to take precautions to minimize foodborne illness risks from bacteria, viruses, and toxins. This includes only eating mussels and clams that are fully cooked until the shells open, avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish, purchasing from trusted sources, storing properly, and following food safety guidelines.
Incorporate mussels, clams, and other low mercury seafood choices like salmon and shrimp as part of an overall varied, well-balanced diet during pregnancy. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, healthy oils, eggs, lean meats, and dairy too. With some mindfulness of food safety, you can safely enjoy delicious, nutritious mussels and clams in moderation.