If you're pregnant and love sushi, you might be wondering if it's safe to eat salmon or imitation crab. Imitation crab is an ingredient commonly incorporated in sushi rolls, seafood salads, soups, and dips. It's a valid concern, as crab is technically a type of shellfish, and some fish contain high levels of mercury. In high amounts, mercury can be unsafe for both the mother and the unborn baby.
However, since imitation crab meat contains no crab at all, it's safe to consume during pregnancy in moderation, says dietitian Nishta Saxena, MSc, RD.
"Imitation crab is a blend of processed fish meat, additives, salt sugar, and preservatives," she explains. "It is made with surimi or pollock fish meat, that is mashed and cooked with many other additives, then pressed and shaped into cubes, strips, bricks, etc. to be used in popular dishes such as sushi."
While this is a win for sushi lovers, some considerations about imitation crab meat should be considered. To arm you with the best info possible, we tasked Saxena (and two other dietitians) to dive deep into how much imitation crab meat you can safely consume during pregnancy and if there are any additional nutritional perks (or risks) to know about.
While pregnant women can eat seafood and imitation crab meat, there are some considerations to keep in mind, according to Saxena.
"Imitation crab contains MSG, carrageenan, higher milligrams of sodium and sodium benzoate," she says. For this reason, it's best recommended to limit your consumption of imitation crab meat to no more than two to three times a week.
And even though imitation crab meat doesn't contain real crab, it's still possible to get food poisoning because it contains fish and, in some instances, egg whites as ingredients. That's why it's important to make sure your fish is fully cooked before you eat it.
"Providing crab sushi is cooked, it is safe during pregnancy, as long as there is no raw fish or meat accompanying it," she tells Today's Parent. "However, they don't offer the same benefits of real seafood, such as zinc, selenium, and omega-three fatty acids. Therefore, pregnant women should consider getting these nutrients from other foods or alternating them with real seafood."
Because they contain no raw ingredients, pregnant women can eat California rolls without any worry, according to Saxena. You should, however, make sure that your California rolls contain fully cooked ingredients (sushi recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant) and that they don't contain fish eggs.
"It's also important to avoid too much soy sauce or wasabi, which can be irritating and cause palpitations or swelling in pregnant women if eaten in excess," adds Saxena.
Because imitation crab is usually made from cooked pollock (some may even contain Alaskan pollock), a low-mercury fish, it's generally safe for pregnant women to consume, according to registered dietitian Alyssa Pacheco, RD. "Dietary guidelines for Americans recommend two to three servings (eight to 12 ounces) of low-mercury fish per week," she tells Today's Parent.
At the same time, you'll want to keep in mind that imitation crab isn't as nutritious as traditional crab. "Imitation crab generally contains more carbohydrates and less protein than regular crab meat," says Pacheco.
"Imitation crab is also lower in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, zinc and copper."
Imitation crab can satisfy those sushi cravings, but it doesn't offer the same nutrients as real crab. "Imitation crab is much lower in necessary omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and micronutrients, such as zinc, copper and selenium," explains Schlichter. "It's also more processed, resulting in higher sodium levels, something pregnant women should be aware of."
According to Schlichter, women can safely eat imitation crab during pregnancy if it is fully cooked. "Pregnant women can consume up to two to three servings per week," she explains. "However, if imitation crab is made with shark, king mackerel swordfish (aka high-mercury fish), pregnant women should avoid it altogether."
Even though it looks like crab meat, imitation crab isn't made from real crab, says Schlichter. "Imitation crab is not truly crab but fish flesh that has been deboned and formed into a paste with the fat removed," she shares. "It's then mixed with other ingredients and processed, so it doesn't provide the same benefits as real crab meat."
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