Salmon in pregnancy

Salmon in pregnancy

Pregnancy and Salmon

Salmon in pregnancy: introduction

The relevance of salmon in pregnancy is often debated.

This disagreement originates above all from the fact that fish is marketed in various forms of conservation and processing, intended for even very different preparations. Salmon is available raw and frozen or thawed, fresh, smoked or canned.

During pregnancy, certain raw foods and others canned are strongly discouraged; on the other hand, very often these products have such important nutritional characteristics that they cannot be neglected in any way.

So: can you eat salmon when you are pregnant? It depends, sometimes yes and sometimes no. Let’s go into more detail.

What is Salmon?

Salmon is a bony fish. In human nutrition it is considered a ” fishery product ” which falls within the “Ist Fundamental Group of Foods”. With a considerable energy supply , salmon is nevertheless appreciated by virtue of its nutritional value and potential health benefits. Below we will better understand why.

There are various types of salmon. The most widespread in Europe is the Atlantic salmon (called Norwegian or Scottish), belonging to the Family Salmonidae, Genus Salmo and salar species . In evident and progressive demographic decline in the natural habitat (but not as much as the “chinook” or “royal” of Canada – Oncorhynchus tshawytscha ), this salmon can be successfully reproduced in extensive, intensive or hyper-intensive farms. Its commercial availability, therefore, does not depend only on fishing.

Salmon lends itself to many types of culinary preparations, some simple and others more complex. The only cooking method that is usually advised against for the preparation of salmon is frying, as it tends to alter the chemical characteristics of the food (especially the integrity of the “good fats”).In the kitchen, salmon can be used to prepare appetizers, first courses and main courses, depending on the type of raw material. Salmon is excellent defrosted, natural and raw ( carpaccio , sushi , tartare, etc.), smoked and raw, cooked in pasta sauces (natural or smoked), natural cut into slices and cooked in the oven or grilled , in a pan etc.

As anticipated, salmon has nutritional characteristics that many would define as excellent. Its good reputation has progressively increased its consumption in the general population. Now part of the collective diet, salmon can be useful but not irreplaceable. It can also have contraindications such as, for example, those of a hygienic type in the pregnancy diet .

Nutritional characteristics

Salmon nutrients in pregnancy: are they good for you?

Before wondering if it is correct to eat salmon when you are pregnant, we should ask ourselves if it is a useful food in the diet. Yes, salmon is a product with good nutritional characteristics. However, we must not be convinced by those who advertise it as an irreplaceable food; later we will understand better why.

Among its qualities we mention:

  • Rich in “partially essential” omega 3 fatty acids : eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are metabolically more active than the essential alpha linolenic acid (ALA), contained in foods of vegetable origin ( oilseeds , starchy seed germ , extraction oils, etc.). EPA and DHA perform numerous functions: they constitute cell membranes , they allow the development of the brain and eyes in the fetus and in the child, reduce the general inflammatory state and exert benefits on many metabolic pathologies (hypertension, hypertriglyceridemia , type 2 diabetes mellitus lesions, etc.), on brain activity in old age, on mood, etc. In pregnancies characterized by the onset or worsening of primary arterial hypertension , ensuring an adequate intake of omega 3 can help improve health (provided it does not derive from smoked or canned salmon , rich in sodium with a hypertensive action) .
  • Rich in vitamin D (more precisely D3): also called cholecalciferol, this fat-soluble nutrient is abundant in both salmon meat and liver . It is essential for bone metabolism , ensuring the growth of the skeleton in the fetus and the achievement of peak bone mass in the development phase. It also performs an important immunomodulatory function.
  • Wealth of high biological value proteins : they are those that contain all the essential amino acids in the right quantities and proportions. Necessary for the maintenance of any human organism in health, they are quite important (but rarely deficient) even in pregnancy for the development of the fetus .
  • Salmon farmed in the sea contains iodine : necessary for the maintenance of thyroid health , iodine is a potentially deficient mineral in the diet of the general population. Any serious nutritional deficiency can compromise the development of the fetus ; for this reason, when choosing the type of salmon when purchasing, one should prefer the one raised in the sea.
  • Retinol equivalents (RAE): the pink color of salmon is naturally made up of astaxanthin , a carotenoid or provitamin A originally contained in tiny phytoplankton algae . Eaten by crustaceans that are part of the salmon diet, this micro algae allows the passage of pigment from the base almost to the top of the food chain. Wild or farmed salmon fed on plankton ( krill ) are naturally pink in color; those fed with feed instead, are supplemented with carotenoids of different types. The main function of RAE is antioxidant and precursor of vitamin A(indispensable, for example, for the visual function). Very rarely carotenoids and vitamin A are deficient in pregnancy diet.

Nutritional controversies of pregnant salmon

We often get so distracted by the merits of this food that we forget to take into consideration even the less desirable nutritional factors. For example, not everyone knows that salmon also provides cholesterol and saturated fat . A portion of this fish supplies up to 17% of the maximum daily cholesterol for a healthy subject (max 300 mg/day) and up to 25% for one suffering from hypercholesterolemia (max 200 mg/day).

Furthermore, the concentration of polyunsaturated fats , including ( but not only ) omega 3, is quantitatively identical to that of saturated fats (which tend to increase cholesterol levels). The saturated/polyunsaturated ratio is therefore adequate but certainly not “surprising”.

Smoked and canned salmon (in brine or in oil ) are also high in sodium, which comes from the salt (NaCl) used to increase shelf life. Although rich in omega 3 (EPA and DHA), potentially hypotensive , smoked and canned salmon are inadequate for a diet against sodium- sensitive primary arterial hypertension (especially during pregnancy).

Is salmon necessary in pregnancy?

No, salmon is not a necessary product for the pregnant woman. However, we must not forget that during pregnancy it is very important to continue to consume fishery products 2-3 times a week and that, more generally, it is absolutely necessary not to eliminate the 1st and 2nd fundamental food groups (meat, fish and eggs ; milk and derivatives).

Salmon can be easily replaced with other foods of the same type; oily fish rich in omega 3 (EPA and DHA), vitamin D and iodine are particularly suitable  , such as, for example: sardines , mackerel , bonito , anchovies , sardines , garfish , lanzardo , horse mackerel , leerfish , greenhouse, dolphinfish, alletterato , gravedigger etc. On the other hand, shellfish are less valuable from a nutritional point of view, poorly digestible , richer in cholesterol and potentially allergenic (prawns , prawns , prawns , langoustines , lobster , lobster , spider crab , crab , crabs , etc. ) and molluscs , especially bivalves ( mussels , oysters , clams , razor clams , cockles , cockles , sea truffles , etc.).

The average portion of fresh or thawed salmon is about 100 g, not exceeding 150 g. The frequency of consumption should ultimately be sporadic, alternating with other fishery products.

For other nutritional information on salmon, we recommend reading the dedicated article: Salmon .


Food hygiene requirements: is salmon suitable during pregnancy?

From a hygienic point of view, the consumption of salmon during pregnancy could have contraindications.

It is known that, during pregnancy, contracting certain food diseases ( zoonoses or parasitosis , food poisoning, infections, intoxications, etc.) can seriously harm the health of the unborn child. We must then deal with the possible contamination by pollutants. Let’s proceed in order; among the most feared pathologies we mention toxoplasmosis and listeriosis.

Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy : does salmon increase the risk?

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic foodborne illness. Caused by Toxoplasma gondii (protozoan), if it occurs during pregnancy, in just under 1/3 of cases it crosses the placenta reaching the fetus. The severity of the zoonosis increases with the months of gestation, with the child more likely to suffer “congenital toxoplasmosis”, manifesting fetal deformations (especially neurological), premature delivery , abortion and death. Toxoplasmosis is taken only once (except for the immunosuppressed). If the protozoan has already come into contact with the woman’s body previously, this develops antibodies that prevent its systemic action. It is mainly transmitted byvia faecal gold from feces of carrier animals (containing cysts) and cross-contamination , for example through unwashed vegetables and fruits, drinking unpotable water, putting your hands in your mouth after gardening or after cleaning the cat litter box . Sensitive to heat, it also dies at pasteurization and freezing temperatures (see below).

The only forms of salmon that can carry toxoplasmosis are raw and secondarily contaminated ones, by cross-contamination and via faecal gold, since fish are not a creature that can host this parasite. The heat of cooking  or pasteurization (approximately over 70°C) effectively eliminates the Toxoplasma gondii present in raw foods without leaving any traces. Conversely, if cooked foods subsequently come into contact with the pathogen, regardless of how long they are stored, they can cause toxoplasmosis. On the contrary, by freezing the contaminated products (raw or cooked) up to -20°C, it is possible to effectively eliminate the protozoa; unfortunately Toxoplasma gondiiit is not the only harmful pathogen in pregnancy, which is why it may be inadvisable to eat raw salmon during pregnancy, especially outside the home.

Listeriosis in pregnancy: does salmon increase the risk?

Listeriosis is an infectious-bacterial foodborne illness. Caused by Listeria monocytogenes (rarely by L. ivanovii and L. grayi ), listeriosis becomes dangerous during septicemia (it passes from the intestine to the bloodstream). The repercussions can therefore be general (for example infection of the brain) but also specific, with involvement of the vagina and uterus up to the fetus. The symptoms, initially almost non-existent, become clearly evident in the third month of pregnancy and last 7-10 days. The most serious complications of listeriosis are miscarriage , childbirthpremature and lethal infection of the newborn. Just under 1/3 of cases of severe listeriosis concern pregnant women; 22% of severe forms in gestation cause abortion or neonatal death (mothers tend to survive). Listeria, ubiquitous in soil and water, is prolific in poorly preserved and raw foods, especially unpasteurized milk , molded and blue cheeses (from unpasteurized milk), raw or cooked and preserved fish and meat, smoked fish , etc. Cross-contamination from unhealthy raw foods to cooked and preserved foods (even in the refrigerator) also plays a fundamental role . Sensitive to heat, it dies even at pasteurization temperature.

Salmon can be infected with listeria in a number of ways. Being present in the farm water, listeria can affect this fish especially during incorrect slaughter or due to inadequate procedures during storage and conservation. If it affects raw fish , listeria does not die with smoking or freezing; moreover, it seems that at refrigerator temperatures and with high concentrations of sodium (salting, brine), it is still able to reproduce effectively. It is above all because of listeria that during pregnancy we must avoid raw salmon, even if smoked, and also cooked and stored for more than a day in the refrigerator. The consumption of home-made cooked salmon-based preserves is also inadvisable.

Other salmon pathogens

Pathogens can multiply in salmon, the infection of which is NOT directly responsible for abortion, fetal death , malformations or mental retardation , but which can still prove to be indirectly dangerous for pregnancy.

Some examples are:

  • Salmonella , Coliforms, Staphylococci: these are three large groups of pathogens that can give rise to food poisoning . They are mainly spread by the fecal-oral route, cross-contamination, operator-employee saliva spread. Above all, they concern food that has been slaughtered inadequately or of uncertified origin, cooked inadequately and badly stored. Some also produce spores and toxins .
  • Botulinum : it is a very dangerous bacterium which spreads above all in preserves. It may concern home-made canned salmon. Its neurotoxins give rise to botulinum syndrome ; extremely dangerous, it interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses and can be fatal. It is sensitive to cooking but it is still advisable to avoid “suspicious” foods
  • Anisakis : pathogenic worm that can lurk and perforate the human intestine requiring surgical intervention. It dies by blast chilling or freezing (see the dedicated article for the necessary temperatures and times) and by pasteurization or cooking. It does not perish with smoking, drying and marinating.

Salmon pollutants: are they dangerous?

To tell the truth, salmon is not among the fish richest in pollutants. On the other hand, like all other marine creatures, it is not free from a certain environmental contamination. Fortunately, remaining medium in size, salmon does not act as a “reservoir” as, for example, tuna , swordfish and  sharks ( blue shark , dogfish , porbeagle , etc.).

Is mercury in salmon dangerous in pregnancy ?

Among the most formidable contaminants that can affect salmon, especially that raised in the sea, we mention mercury. This heavy metal is now sadly known for its poisonous effect on the central nervous system which can also affect the fetus during pregnancy causing serious undesirable effects. Fortunately, mercury levels in salmon are largely normal.

Are dioxins in salmon dangerous in pregnancy ?

Another widespread and much feared pollutant is dioxins and the like. Residues from the degradation of plastic materials (waste), these molecules can have a very negative impact on the health of consumers; the fruit of conception , as always, is particularly sensitive to anomalous concentrations of pollutants which can have repercussions of a teratogenic type (malformations). Also in this case, salmon does not cause major concerns and there have not yet been cases of dioxin accumulation in its meat.

Salmon and histamine : is it harmful in pregnancy?

Histamine is a product of the degradation of the amino acid histidine which, in the human body, acts as a chemical mediator of inflammation and as a neurotransmitter ; it is typical of allergic reactions . Histamine can also form inside foods due to the metabolism of some microorganisms or independently; it is therefore abundant in preserved foods (for example smoked salmon), especially in those characterized by a certain bacterial or fungal growth.

An excess of histamine produces rather evident and annoying symptoms. There is a category of people, called intolerant, who react hypersensitively even to normal concentrations of histamine (sometimes even if produced endogenously ) . Considering that, during pregnancy, bodily reactions involving the release of histamine can increase (for example dermatitis and eczema , in 1-18% of cases), it is certainly a good idea to significantly limit the consumption of smoked salmon and all foods rich (or precursors) in histamine (especially in the case of pre-existing hypersensitivity).


Can I eat salmon when pregnant?

It is certainly possible to eat salmon when you are pregnant, provided that some simple recommendations are respected:

  1. Consume only salmon from certified farms ( aquaculture ).
  2. Raw salmon should not be kept in the refrigerator for a long time. It may be good practice, after the purchase, to maintain an adequate temperature (or the so-called cold chain ) for transport and to cook it within one day
  3. Salmon must always be cooked, regardless of whether it has been blast chilled and kept frozen, salted, smoked, etc.
  4. Cooked salmon must NOT be eaten after storage for more than 24 hours
  5. If defrosted salmon (procedure to be carried out strictly in the refrigerator or in the microwave ), it cannot be frozen again raw
  6. Better to avoid freezing cooked salmon; in the event, it is good to remember to defrost it in the microwave and regenerate it at temperatures above 70-75 °C
  7. If you have histamine reactions or histamine intolerance , avoid smoked and canned salmon.



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