What kind of sushi can you eat while breastfeeding?

Eating sushi while breastfeeding is perfectly safe, as long as you take some basic precautions. Many women worry that they have to give up their favorite sushi rolls during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but that is not the case. With a little care and planning, you can continue to enjoy sushi without putting your health or your baby’s at risk.

Is it safe to eat sushi while breastfeeding?

Yes, most types of sushi are safe to eat when breastfeeding. The key is choosing sushi made with low mercury fish and seafood. Mercury is a heavy metal that can build up in some types of fish and shellfish. Consuming high levels of mercury during pregnancy and breastfeeding can negatively impact your baby’s developing brain and nervous system.

Here are some general guidelines for eating sushi safely while breastfeeding:

  • Avoid high mercury fish like tuna, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, and marlin
  • Choose low mercury fish like salmon, shrimp, pollock, tilapia, sardines, and scallops
  • Opt for cooked sushi like shrimp tempura rolls over raw fish
  • Limit tuna sushi intake to no more than 1-2 servings per week
  • Avoid sushi made from raw shellfish like oysters and clams
  • Make sure the sushi restaurant properly stores, handles, and prepares the fish

As long as you follow those guidelines, the top sushi picks for breastfeeding moms include:

  • Salmon rolls
  • California rolls (with mock crab meat)
  • Shrimp tempura rolls
  • Tuna rolls (in moderation)
  • Vegetable rolls
  • Cucumber rolls
  • Avocado rolls

Why is mercury a concern with sushi?

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and makes its way into water sources where fish live. When larger, predatory fish eat smaller fish, the mercury accumulates and concentrates in their tissues. The larger and higher up on the food chain a fish is, the more mercury it is likely to contain.

This mercury buildup poses a higher risk for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The developing fetus and breastfeeding infants are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury on the brain and nervous system. Even small amounts can disrupt brain development and cause lifelong learning and developmental problems.

Most fish and shellfish contain at least traces of mercury. But levels are generally highest in large predatory fish that eat lots of smaller contaminated fish over their longer lifespans, including:

  • Tuna
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Tilefish
  • Some species of bass

When eating sushi, it’s safest to choose rolls made with low mercury fish like salmon, tilapia, shrimp, crab, and smaller tuna species. You’ll also want to limit higher mercury rolls like yellowfin or bigeye tuna.

Benefits of eating sushi while breastfeeding

While you need to be mindful of mercury exposure, eating sushi in moderation comes with excellent health benefits for breastfeeding moms, including:

  • Protein – Fish provides high-quality protein to support postpartum recovery and milk production.
  • Omega-3s – Salmon and some tuna deliver omega-3 fatty acids that aid brain development.
  • Iodine – Seaweed used to wrap sushi is a great source of iodine to support thyroid function.
  • Vitamin D – Many types of fish supply vitamin D, which helps baby absorb calcium.
  • Selenium – Fish like tuna contain selenium, an antioxidant that supports immunity.
  • B-vitamins – Fish supplies vitamin B12 and other B vitamins that give you an energy boost.

In addition to nutrients, sushi offers variety when you need a break from standard postpartum foods. As long as you choose sushi made from low mercury seafood, it can be part of a healthy breastfeeding diet.

Tips for eating sushi safely while breastfeeding

Here are some helpful tips for moms who want to keep enjoying sushi while breastfeeding:

  • Check advisories – Check local seafood advisories for dangers about certain fish in your area.
  • Avoid raw shellfish – Raw oysters, clams, and other shellfish can harbor bacteria and viruses.
  • Cook your sushi – Opt for tempura or other cooked rolls instead of raw fish.
  • Limit tuna – Yellowfin, bigeye, and bluefin tuna have more mercury, so limit intake to 1-2 servings per week.
  • Mix it up – Don’t eat sushi as your only seafood source. Vary low mercury fish like salmon, tilapia, shrimp, and scallops.
  • Choose trusted spots – Eat sushi from only high-end restaurants with strict safety standards.
  • Ask questions – Ask where the restaurant sources fish and what’s in the rolls.
  • Study the menu – Pick rolls with vegetables, avocado, shrimp or crab.
  • Save high mercury fish – Avoid tuna, shark, swordfish, mackerel, and orange roughy sushi.

Taking those precautions allows you to enjoy sushi without worrying about mercury or food poisoning. Just use common sense about where and what you order when eating sushi while breastfeeding.

Best and worst sushi rolls when breastfeeding

To make smart sushi choices while breastfeeding, familiarize yourself with the best and worst rolls:

Best sushi rolls when breastfeeding

These low mercury sushi rolls are safest for breastfeeding moms and babies:

  • Salmon rolls – Rich in healthy omega-3s and low in mercury.
  • California rolls – Contain avocado and imitation crab rather than raw fish.
  • Shrimp tempura rolls – Shrimp is low mercury and gets cooked in the tempura batter.
  • Vegetable rolls – Filled with cucumber, avocado, asparagus or other veggie combinations.
  • Tuna rolls – Very fresh, low mercury tuna like skipjack is okay in moderation (1-2 times per week).
  • Eel rolls – Cooked eel is safe in small amounts.
  • Crab rolls – Real crabmeat is low mercury.
  • Yellowtail rolls – Yellowtail is a smaller tuna species that’s lower in mercury.

Worst sushi rolls when breastfeeding

It’s smart to avoid the following high mercury sushi rolls when breastfeeding:

  • Tuna rolls – Yellowfin, bigeye, and bluefin tuna are higher in mercury.
  • Marlin rolls – Very high mercury levels.
  • Orange roughy rolls – This deep water fish contains a lot of mercury.
  • Swordfish rolls – Also very high in mercury.
  • Shark rolls – Shark is extremely high in mercury.
  • King mackerel rolls – Mackerel is high mercury and on the FDA “do not eat” list.
  • Tilefish rolls – Tilefish is another fish very high in mercury.
  • Oyster rolls – Raw shellfish may contain bacteria and viruses.

By sticking to the best choices and avoiding the worst, you can safely satisfy your sushi cravings while breastfeeding. Moderation and variety are key when selecting fish and seafood-based sushi rolls.

Healthy sushi-style recipes to try

If you’re craving sushi but want to err on the side of caution, try making these healthy sushi-inspired recipes at home:

Teriyaki Salmon Sushi Bowls

Transform antioxidant-rich salmon into a protein-packed sushi bowl:

  • Sear or bake sustainable salmon filets in a teriyaki glaze
  • Serve salmon atop sushi rice and shredded cabbage
  • Top with avocado slices, sesame seeds, diced cucumber and carrot
  • Drizzle with spicy mayo made with Greek yogurt and sriracha

Shrimp Summer Sushi Rolls

Whip up this seasonal veggie sushi roll:

  • Cook shrimp in olive oil with a pinch of Cajun seasoning
  • Spread out a whole wheat tortilla and layer with hummus, cooked shrimp, and matchstick veggies like zucchini, bell pepper, and carrot
  • Roll up tortilla tightly, slice, and top with diced mango
  • Serve with lime wedges

Spicy Tuna Cakes with Dipping Sauce

Make these protein-packed tuna cakes to avoid raw fish:

  • Mix 1 lb tuna with diced onion, breadcrumbs, eggs, chili powder, and cilantro
  • Form into patties and pan fry until golden brown on the outside
  • Make Greek yogurt dipping sauce with diced cucumber, lemon juice, garlic powder, and dill
  • Serve tuna cakes alongside rice and dipping sauce

With a little creativity, you can recreate the flavors of sushi at home while limiting mercury exposure from fish. Homemade sushi bowls and rolls give you control over ingredients.

The bottom line

Most types of sushi can be part of a healthy pregnancy and breastfeeding diet. To minimize risk, follow these safe sushi eating tips while breastfeeding:

  • Avoid high mercury fish like tuna, swordfish, shark, orange roughy, mackerel, tilefish, and king mackerel
  • Limit tuna sushi intake to 1-2 times per week
  • Skip raw sushi made with shellfish like oysters or clams
  • Choose low mercury sushi rolls made with salmon, tilapia, shrimp, crab, and vegetable combinations
  • Order sushi from high-end restaurants with strict safety standards

Ask your doctor about any local fish advisories or other special recommendations for eating sushi in your area. With the right choices and precautions, you can continue to enjoy quality sushi throughout your breastfeeding journey.

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