Can I Safely Eat Poke And Sushi While Pregnant ?

The question of whether sushi and poke are safe to eat during pregnancy is a topic of much debate. For many, cravings for sushi or a poke bowl do not stop just because they are expecting. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the safety and risks associated with sushi and poke consumption during pregnancy.

Understanding Sushi and Poke


What is Sushi?

Sushi, a traditional Japanese dish, typically involves vinegared rice combined with other ingredients such as vegetables, seafood, and occasionally tropical fruits.

What is Poke?

Poke, native to Hawaii, is a dish traditionally made with raw fish (typically ahi tuna) cut into small chunks and marinated. The dish is often served with rice and vegetables.

The Controversy: Raw Fish and Pregnancy


Mercury and Raw Fish

The main concern about sushi and poke during pregnancy centers around the high mercury levels found in certain types of fish. When consumed, mercury can affect the developing nervous system of the unborn baby.

Parasites and Raw Fish

The second concern with raw or undercooked fish is the potential risk of foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria or parasites.

Risks Of Eating Raw Fish or Seafood :

Eating raw fish during pregnancy can pose several risks to the unborn baby:

  1. Foodborne Illnesses: Raw or undercooked fish may contain harmful bacteria and parasites that can lead to foodborne illnesses, such as listeriosis and salmonella. These infections can be severe and may cause complications like premature birth, miscarriage, or stillbirth.
  2. High Mercury Levels: Certain types of fish, especially large, predatory fish like swordfish and certain types of tuna, can contain high levels of mercury. Excessive mercury exposure can negatively impact the baby’s developing nervous system, leading to cognitive delays and motor skill issues.
  3. Vitamin A Toxicity: Some types of fish, particularly those used in sushi such as tuna, can be high in vitamin A. Excessive amounts of vitamin A can be harmful to the baby and may lead to birth defects.
  4. Reduced Immune Function: Pregnant individuals have a naturally lower immune response, making them more susceptible to the potential pathogens present in raw fish, which could in turn impact the baby.

Safe Options for Poke and Sushi During Pregnancy


Choosing Safe Sushi During Pregnancy

Fortunately, not all sushi involves raw fish. Cooked sushi rolls, such as a California roll made with imitation crab, or rolls with fully cooked fish or vegetables, are safe during pregnancy. Here is a list  to help you safely choose and eat sushi while pregnant:

  1. California Roll: Made with avocado, cucumber, and cooked imitation crab.
  2. Eel Roll (Unagi): Made with cooked eel and usually served with a savory eel sauce.
  3. Shrimp Tempura Roll: Made with tempura-fried shrimp, it’s fully cooked.
  4. Vegetable Rolls: Any sushi roll filled with cooked or pickled vegetables.
  5. Cucumber Roll (Kappa Maki): A simple sushi roll containing cucumber.
  6. Avocado Roll: Just like the cucumber roll but with avocado.
  7. Tamago (Egg) Sushi: Made with sweet, cooked egg.

Safe Poke Bowls while Pregnant

For poke cravings while pregnant, consider bowls that include cooked seafood or tofu as a protein source.

  1. Cooked Shrimp Poke Bowl: A poke bowl made with fully cooked shrimp.
  2. Cooked Octopus (Tako) Poke Bowl: As long as the octopus is cooked, it should be safe to eat.
  3. Tofu Poke Bowl: Tofu is a safe and vegetarian alternative for poke bowls.
  4. Cooked Crab Poke Bowl: Another cooked seafood option, crab is a low-mercury choice.

Sushi and Poke that Pregnant People Should Avoid


High Mercury Fish

Certain types of fish, such as swordfish, marlin, and mackerel, contain high mercury levels and should be avoided.

Sushi and Poke Preparation Concerns

Even with low-mercury fish, the risk of foodborne illness from improperly prepared sushi or poke is a concern.

Here are some Sushi and Poke dishes to avoid during pregnancy:

Unsafe Sushi During Pregnancy: Sushi with raw fish

  1. Tuna (Maguro) Rolls: These often contain bigeye tuna, a type of fish with higher levels of mercury.
  2. Salmon (Sake) Nigiri or Rolls: Though lower in mercury than tuna, raw salmon carries a risk of parasites or bacteria.
  3. Yellowtail (Hamachi) Nigiri or Rolls: Yellowtail can contain higher mercury levels.
  4. Spicy Tuna Roll: These are typically made with raw tuna.

Unsafe Poke Dishes During Pregnancy:

  1. Traditional Ahi Poke Bowl: Traditional poke bowls are made with raw ahi (tuna), which is not recommended due to mercury levels.
  2. Salmon Poke Bowl: While salmon is lower in mercury, it is usually used raw in poke bowls which can carry a risk of parasites or bacteria.
  3. Yellowfin Tuna Poke Bowl: Yellowfin, like other types of tuna, can contain high levels of mercury.

Health Benefits of Eating Fish During Pregnancy


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Many types of fish, particularly salmon and mackerel, are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for the developing brain of the unborn baby.

Other Nutritional Benefits

Fish also provide protein, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients that contribute to a healthy pregnancy

Recommendations from Health Experts


Consult Your OB-GYN

It’s important to discuss your diet, including sushi and poke consumption, with your OB-GYN during pregnancy.

Proper Food Safety Practices

Always play it safe and ensure your sushi and poke are prepared following the best food safety practices.


Eating sushi or poke while pregnant can be safe if the right precautions are taken, including choosing dishes that use fully cooked ingredients or safe alternatives.

However, certain types of fish, especially raw or undercooked, may pose risks due to high mercury levels and the potential for foodborne illnesses. As always, it’s crucial to discuss your diet and specific food choices with your healthcare provider during pregnancy.

These precautions ensure that you satisfy your cravings without compromising the safety and health of both you and your developing baby.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Can I Eat California Rolls while Pregnant?

Yes, California rolls are generally safe to eat during pregnancy because they contain fully cooked or non-fish ingredients.

What Kind of Sushi Rolls are Safe to Eat?

Sushi rolls made from fully cooked fish or vegetarian sushi are safe to eat during pregnancy.

Can I Eat Poke Bowls with cooked fish while Pregnant?

Yes, poke bowls with fully cooked fish or vegetarian options are safe to eat while pregnant.

Is It Safe to Consume Uncooked Tuna when I’m Pregnant?

Most health professionals advise against consuming raw or undercooked tuna due to potentially high mercury levels and the risk of foodborne illness. No raw fish is safe during pregnancy.

What are the Risks of Eating Raw Fish during Pregnancy?

Raw fish dishes like sashimi pose risks like potential exposure to high levels of mercury and the possibility of foodborne illnesses due to bacteria or parasites.

It’s recommended to stay away from raw or undercooked seafood dishes altogether, which includes sushi and sashimi as well as ceviche and raw oysters, clams, and scallops. Cooked fish instead of raw fish is the safe way to go when you’re pregnant

What is the difference between sushi and sashimi?

Sushi refers to any dish made with vinegared rice, which can be served with various ingredients, often including fish, while sashimi is specifically thin slices of raw seafood or meat, served without rice.


  1. American Pregnancy Association. (2021). Mercury Levels in Fish.
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2021). Pregnancy and fish: What’s safe to eat?
  3. US Food and Drug Administration. (2021). Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know.
  4. Cleveland Clinic. (2021). Can Pregnant Women Eat Sushi?
  5. Harvard Health Publishing. (2019). Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders.


This post is written and edited by Sandy who is a clinical pharmacist with over 20 years of experience specializing in pre-natal and post-natal care.