Evidence Based

Can You Eat Shrimp While Pregnant? Is it Safe?

Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

Published at 01:35

Cooked shrimp is a tasty source of nutrients for pregnancy. Photo: Kritchai7752/shutterstock

One of the signs of early pregnancy is food cravings, and some may be pretty unusual. Others may crave seafood but wonder, “Can you eat shrimp while pregnant?” Is shrimp a low-mercury choice, and how much shrimp can be eaten safely per week or meal?

Yes, cooked shrimp is safe to eat[1] during pregnancy. The FDA encourages you to eat two to three servings of fish in the low-mercury group weekly to get essential nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. One serving is considered to be 4 ounces.

Shrimp provide key nutrients[2] critical to an infant’s brain, developmental growth, and thyroid development. These nutrients are:

  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Iron.
  • Iodine.
  • Choline.

Let’s look at shrimp safety issues, ways to prevent foodborne illness, and the nutritional benefits of including this seafood in a maternal diet.

Shrimp During Pregnancy

  • Only 10%-20% of pregnant women get the recommended servings of low-mercury fish per week, like shrimp.
  • Pregnant women should avoid uncooked or raw shrimp.
  • Cook all seafood to an internal temperature of 145 degrees for food safety.
  • Shrimp is high in iron, choline, protein, and iodine while low in total fat and calories.
  • Shrimp provides nutrients frequently insufficient in a pregnant woman’s diet.
  • Shrimp provides a significant amount of cholesterol, which may need to be limited to reduce risks for a large infant or gestational diabetes.

Can You Eat Shrimp While Pregnant?

Can You Eat Shrimp While Pregnant-1
Can You Eat Shrimp While Pregnant? Photo: Kritchai7752/shutterstock

The answer to this question depends on whether the shrimp is cooked or raw. Raw shrimp is a source of pathogens that may lead to foodborne illness. Pregnant women are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses[3] because their immune system is weaker and less able to fend off bacterial invaders.

Even if you are not in a high-risk group, the FDA frowns on eating raw shrimp because it is high in bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Culturally, however, it may be a staple food, such as sushi in Japan[4]. The FDA reports that 60% of raw shrimp is high[5] in the infectious bacteria Vibrio.

Cooked shrimp is a low-mercury fish safe to eat during pregnancy. Two to three 4-ounce servings a week should be eaten from this group, including shrimp. Shrimp provide vital nutrients for fetal brain and nervous system growth and development.
Only 10%- 20% of U.S. pregnant women[6] get the recommended 8 ounces of fish per week. Since fish contains nutrients not obtained from other foods, mothers-to-be should consciously try to include more of it in their menus.

Safety Precautions For Eating Shrimp During Pregnancy

There are safe ways to buy, cook, and store seafood. Let’s go over some of the guidelines the FDA recommends[7].

Purchase Fresh Seafood At Proper Temperature

Only buy seafood that is refrigerated or on a bed of ice. This temperature control method ensures the seafood is chilled sufficiently to inhibit bacterial growth.

 Shrimp should be clear and pearl-like in color.

Examine The Packaging

 Don’t buy seafood if the package is cracked, torn, or otherwise damaged. Avoid packages that have visible ice crystals on the bags. This means the fish has been stored for some time, perhaps thawed, and then refrozen. Frozen seafood should be solid and not bendable.

Store At The Recommended Temperature

Store your seafood at 40 degrees or below if it is to be used within two days; otherwise, freeze it. Wrap tightly in a moisture-proof covering before storing it in the freezer to prevent oxidation and water contamination.

Thaw Safely

Gradually thaw your seafood overnight. A quick de-thaw can be done by placing the food in a plastic bag and submerging it in cold water. Alternatively, put it in the microwave on defrost.

Cook Thoroughly

Seafood must be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees to kill bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Once cooked, do not leave it at room temperature for over two hours or one hour if it is 90 degrees or more.

Benefits Of Eating Shrimp During Pregnancy

Shrimp is high in a few nutrients that are difficult to supply in pregnancy, like iron, iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, and choline. Omega-6 fatty acids, also present in shrimp, are widespread in other foods, so shrimp is not a crucial source of these.

A 4-ounce serving of cooked shrimp[8] contains:

  • Calories: 112.
  • Protein: 27.2 grams.
  • Iron: 0.58 mg.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids[9]: 72 mg.
  • Choline: * mg.
  • Saturated Fat: 0.02 grams.
  • Calcium: 79.3 mg.
  • Cholesterol: 161 mg.
  • Iodine[10]: 17.33 mcg.

*The database does not list choline, but it is found in various places online at approximately 153 mg per 4-ounce serving.

So, what are the nutritional advantages of eating shrimp while pregnant? Consider that shrimp is:

Low In Calories

Shrimp is an excellent source of protein without all the calories of eating red meat. A comparable serving of lean beef[11] would be 184 calories. One reason it is low in calories is it is low in total fat, especially in saturated fat.

While many suggest it is best to eat fruits during pregnancy to keep your diet low in calories, including other low-calorie choices will also help keep total calories within the goal range.

High In Iodine

Pregnant women need 220 mcg[12] per day, an increase of 70 mcg over their pre-pregnancy needs.

Iodine is essential for proper thyroid functioning and the growth and development of your baby’s brain and nervous system. However, iodine intake is low[13] among pregnant U.S. women; a serving of shrimp provides approximately 7% of the Daily Value for this nutrient.

High In Choline

Pregnant women need 450 mg/day of choline[14] an increase of 25 mg over their pre-pregnancy needs. About 90%-95% of pregnant women eat less than the recommended daily amount of this nutrient, putting it at high risk for deficiency in this population group. Choline is essential for 

cognitive development, tissue expansion, and neurological health[15].

An inadequate folate or B12 intake exacerbates a low choline intake. Shrimp has a very high DV of 34% for choline. 

High In Iron

A portion of shrimp has about 0.58 mg of iron, 2% of the DV. Pregnant women need 27 mg of iron[16], an increase of 9 mg over pre-pregnancy needs. The highest sources of iron are found in red meat, fortified cereals, and prenatal vitamins, but shrimp contributes a fair share to the diet. The prevalence of iron deficiency[17] is about 12% in the first trimester, rising to about 65% in the last trimester.

High In Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A daily intake of 1.4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids[18] is needed, an increase of 0.3 grams from pre-pregnancy needs. Shrimp contains about 5% of the DV for omega-3s. The mean intake of these essential fatty acids[19] is about 90 mg in both pregnant and non-pregnant women.

 Omega-3s help reduce the risk for complications[20] like preeclampsia (a potentially fatal condition of high blood pressure and organ damage), post-partum depression, and low birth weight. They are necessary for fetal[21] brain, eye, and nervous system development.

All women’s intake of omega-3 fatty acids is inadequate, regardless of pregnancy status. Consider a supplement if you cannot get enough of this essential fatty acid from the diet.

What About Cholesterol?

Shrimp contain a significant amount of cholesterol, but pregnant women need cholesterol to synthesize fetal brain and nervous system tissues. Some research advises limiting[22] cholesterol to 300 mg a day to prevent large-for-gestational-age infants. A high cholesterol intake may also increase[23] the risk for gestational diabetes.

 One serving of shrimp would provide about 50% of this limitation. However, it is almost negligible in saturated fat. 

Pregnant women should strive to include more seafood in their diets to get those nutrients that are typically inadequate, but they should monitor their intake of total cholesterol and saturated fats. The body uses saturated fats to produce cholesterol, which increases during pregnancy.

Conclusion

It is safe for pregnant women to eat two to three servings a week of low-mercury fish like shrimp. Shrimp is a nutrient-dense food with many essential vitamins and minerals that are usually inadequate in a typical pregnant woman’s regular diet. Uncooked shrimp is a food safety risk and should be avoided altogether.

Good food safety practices should be used when buying, storing, and preparing seafood to lower the risk of foodborne illness, which is naturally higher during pregnancy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many women wonder if elderberry could be taken during pregnancy

Studies do not support taking elderberry[24] while pregnant due to a lack of safety information. Elderberry is taken for a variety of conditions, most frequently for colds and the flu.

Can you get iodine poisoning from too much shrimp?

No, if you eat shrimp in a recommended serving size, you get about 17 mcg of this mineral when the daily need is 220 mcg. Shrimp does absorb iodine from the seawater, but it is not excessive.

Can sushi be eaten during pregnancy?

No, according to FDA guidelines, sushi contains raw fish or shrimp and should not be eaten during pregnancy.

Is there harm in overeating shrimp?

Even though shrimp is in the low-mercury group, it contains some mercury, so we limit the servings to 8-12 ounces per week. Low levels of mercury can damage a fetus’s brain, and high levels are toxic to adults.

What bacteria contaminates uncooked shrimp?

Vibrio contaminates raw shrimp and is known to cause gastritis, cholera, and other digestive infections. Studies show that 60% of raw shrimp is found[25] with this bacteria.

Kathy Shattler, a Registered Dietitian for over 25 years, operates a Telehealth Clinic and freelances as a writer. Holding a Master’s in Human Nutrition from Michigan State University, her expertise spans clinical nutrition and public health. Recognized as a pioneer in her field, Kathy continually pursues excellence in integrative medicine public health education, and her writing endeavors.

Resources

MANA adheres to strict sourcing guidelines, avoids most tertiary sources, and uses only professional resources updated to contain accurate and current information. We majorly rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research from reputable medical associations. For more information regarding our editorial process, please refer to the provided resources.

  1. Best Choices Good Choices. (n.d.). Available at: https://www.fda.gov/media/102331/download?attachment.
  2. Center (2024). Advice About Eating Fish. [online] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish#nutrients [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  3. Center (2024). What Is Foodborne Illness? Food Safety for Moms to Be. [online] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/food/people-risk-foodborne-illness/what-foodborne-illness-food-safety-moms-be [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  4. Cfs.gov.hk. (2022). High risk food – raw shrimp sashimi. [online] Available at: https://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/whatsnew/whatsnew_fsf/whatsnew_fsf_raw_shrimp.html [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  5. Seattle, F.S.N. 1012 F.A.F.F. and Washington 98104-1008 (2015). Consumer Reports: Tests Find 60 Percent of Frozen Shrimp Contaminated With Bacteria. [online] Food Safety News. Available at: https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2015/04/consumer-reports-tests-find-60-percent-of-frozen-shrimp-contaminated-with-bacteria/.
  6. Bramante, C.T., Spiller, P. and Landa, M. (2018). Fish Consumption During Pregnancy. JAMA pediatrics, [online] 172(9), pp.801–801. doi:https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.1619.
  7. Center (2024). Selecting and Serving Fresh and Frozen Seafood Safely. [online] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/selecting-and-serving-fresh-and-frozen-seafood-safely [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  8. Usda.gov. (2024). FoodData Central. [online] Available at: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/175180/nutrients [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  9. Vo, J. (2019). Nutrition & Health Info Sheets for Consumers – Omega-3 Fatty Acids. [online] UC Davis Nutrition Department. Available at: https://nutrition.ucdavis.edu/outreach/nutr-health-info-sheets/consumer-omega3 [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  10. Nih.gov. (2019). Office of Dietary Supplements – Iodine. [online] Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/ [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  11. Usda.gov. (2024). FoodData Central. [online] Available at: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2341235/nutrients [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  12. Nih.gov. (2019). Office of Dietary Supplements – Iodine. [online] Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/ [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  13. Who.int. (2017). Iodine in pregnancy and lactation. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/tools/elena/bbc/iodine-pregnancy [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  14. Nih.gov. (2014). Office of Dietary Supplements – Choline. [online] Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-HealthProfessional/ [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  15. Google.com. (2024). Redirecting. [online] Available at: https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6722688/&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1715597797764894&usg=AOvVaw3fSciUZE40UEDIbLaBtfPL [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  16. Nih.gov. (2015). Office of Dietary Supplements – Iron. [online] Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/ [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  17. Zeisler, H., Dietrich, W., Heinzl, F., Philipp Klaritsch, Humpel, V., Manfred Moertl, Obruca, C., Friedrich Wimazal, Ramoni, A., Tiechl, J. and Wentzel-Schwarz, E. (2021). Prevalence of iron deficiency in pregnant women: A prospective cross‐sectional Austrian study. Food science & nutrition, [online] 9(12), pp.6559–6565. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/fsn3.2588.
  18. Nih.gov. (2015). Office of Dietary Supplements – Omega-3 Fatty Acids. [online] Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/ [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  19. Nordgren, T.M., Lyden, E., Anderson-Berry, A. and Hanson, C. (2017). Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake of Pregnant Women and Women of Childbearing Age in the United States: Potential for Deficiency? Nutrients, [online] 9(3), pp.197–197. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9030197.
  20. Who.int. (2024). Marine oil supplementation to improve pregnancy outcomes. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/tools/elena/bbc/fish-oil-pregnancy [Accessed 13 May 2024].
  21. Carlos Alberto Politano and López-Berroa, J. (2020). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Fecundation, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. Revista brasileira de ginecologia e obstetrícia, [online] 42(03), pp.160–164. doi:https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0040-1708090.
  22. Beatriz, M., Dayana Rodrigues Farias, Lepsch, J., Roberta Hack Mendes, Aline Alves Ferreira and Kac, G. (2016). High cholesterol dietary intake during pregnancy is associated with large for gestational age in a sample of low‐income women of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Maternal and child nutrition, [online] 13(3). doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/mcn.12361.
  23. Cui, N., Li, Y., Huang, S., Ge, Y., Guo, S., Tan, L., Hao, L., Lei, G., Shang, X., Xiong, G. and Yang, X. (2023). Cholesterol-rich dietary pattern during early pregnancy and genetic variations of cholesterol metabolism genes in predicting gestational diabetes mellitus: a nested case-control study. ˜The œAmerican journal of clinical nutrition, [online] 118(5), pp.966–976. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.08.017.
  24. Holst, L., Gro Cecilie Havnen and Nordeng, H. (2014). Echinacea and elderberry—should they be used against upper respiratory tract infections during pregnancy? Frontiers in pharmacology, [online] 5. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2014.00031.
  25. Seattle, F.S.N. 1012 F.A.F.F. and Washington 98104-1008 (2015). Consumer Reports: Tests Find 60 Percent of Frozen Shrimp Contaminated With Bacteria. [online] Food Safety News. Available at: https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2015/04/consumer-reports-tests-find-60-percent-of-frozen-shrimp-contaminated-with-bacteria/.
Feedback

Help us rate this article

Thank you for your feedback

Keep in touch to see our improvement