Are you the kind of sushi eater who dabbles in the occasional tuna roll as long as there is enough wasabi in the soy sauce to disguise the raw fish taste? Or are you a sushi purist who would never taint your raw fish with rice? Whatever your persuasion, you probably craved sushi more than ever when you were pregnant and had to avoid raw and unpasteurized foods because of the risks they posed to your growing belly.
The minute I got pregnant I started daydreaming about slabs of yellow fin sashimi. So one of my first post-baby pit stops was my favorite sushi-on-a-conveyor-belt spot.
But I had to stop short before sinking my teeth into that morsel of tuna. Not because it was raw, but because of the tasteless neurotoxin it might contain. Many of the fish used to make sushi are high in mercury, a neurotoxin that interferes with the brain and nervous system. The amount of mercury in a fish varies depending on the type of fish and where it was caught. But the most common source of mercury exposure for Americans is tuna.
Children under six, as well as women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, are the most vulnerable to mercury's harmful effects. They should restrict or eliminate certain fish from their diet, including ahi or bigeye tuna, tilefish, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy and fish caught in any waters that are subject to a mercury advisory.
But even if you aren't pregnant or planning to get pregnant (or under six!), you might want to avoid loading up your system with mercury. To find out if you're consuming too much mercury, check out NRDC's Mercury Calculator and to opt for sushi with lower levels of mercury, download NRDC’s free list of sushi choices highest and lowest in mercury here.
For the most accurate mercury reading, you should request a blood mercury test from your physician. Women with a high blood mercury level who are planning to start a family may decide to postpone pregnancy for a few months until levels drop; often this occurs within six months.
Alex Kennaugh blends practical experiences as a new mom with professional expertise in environmental policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council's green living initiatives. She resides in London.