Can I Eat Imitation Crab While Pregnant?

Can I Eat Imitation Crab While Pregnant?

Imitation crab is a popular ingredient found in sushi, seafood salads, and other dishes. But when you're expecting, you may wonder if these crab sticks made of surimi fish paste are safe to eat during pregnancy. There are some conflicting opinions on the risks versus benefits of consuming imitation crab meat while pregnant. Here's a comprehensive look at the nutrition profile, mercury content, food safety, and health effects of eating imitation crab to help you make an informed choice.

Can I Eat Imitation Crab Meat While Pregnant?

Can I Eat Imitation Crab Meat While Pregnant?

Imitation crab meat, also known as surimi, is a popular ingredient in many seafood dishes and sushi rolls. When you're pregnant, you may wonder if it's safe to eat imitation crab or if it's better to avoid it. Imitation crab is made from fish paste that gets molded and flavored to resemble real crab legs. The main concerns with eating imitation crab during pregnancy involve its sodium content, foodborne illness risk, and lack of omega-3s compared to real crab. However, imitation crab contains beneficial nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamin B12 with minimal mercury risk. By taking precautions like reheating pre-made surimi dishes and consuming imitation crab in moderation as part of an overall healthy prenatal diet, you can safely enjoy the unique flavor and convenience of imitation crab meat during your pregnancy. This article explores the nutrition profile, health benefits, risks, and safe consumption recommendations for imitation crab when pregnant to help you make an informed choice.

What is Imitation Crab Meat?

Known as surimi, imitation crab meat is a seafood product made by pulverizing white fish like pollock or hake into a paste. The paste is then shaped to resemble crab legs and typically flavored with crab extract.
Imitation crab is lower in fat and calories than real crab, and provides a affordable, convenient substitute for use in:
  • California rolls
  • Seafood salads
  • Surimi salad
  • Crab Rangoon
  • Crab cakes
  • Dip recipes
However, the processing methods and addition of additives give imitation crab a different nutrition profile than whole crab.

Nutritional Profile of Imitation Crab

The nutrition facts for 3 ounces of imitation crab meat are:
  • Calories: 82
  • Protein: 11g
  • Fat: 1g
  • Carbs: 6g
  • Sodium: 330mg
Imitation crab is very high in sodium, providing 14% of the daily value per serving. It also lacks the omega-3 fatty acids found in real crab.
On the plus side, imitation crab contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium and vitamin B12. But it is not as nutritious overall as whole crab meat.

Does Imitation Crab Have Mercury?

The main seafood safety concern during pregnancy is mercury exposure, since high levels can impair fetal brain development.
Fish like tuna, swordfish and king mackerel contain the most mercury and should be avoided. But pollack and other white fish used in imitation crab have very low mercury levels, making surimi a safer choice.
One study tested mercury concentrations in surimi crabmeat, finding all samples contained barely detectable levels well below EPA limits.
So mercury exposure is generally not a concern with moderate imitation crab intake.

Foodborne Illness Risk

While low in mercury, imitation crab does carry a moderate risk for contracting the foodborne illness Listeriosis.
Listeria bacteria can contaminate processed ready-to-eat seafood products like smoked fish and surimi. Listeria infection during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and other complications.
To reduce Listeria risk, pregnant women are advised to:
  • Reheat imitation crab dishes until steaming hot
  • Avoid eating imitation crab cold or uncooked
  • Practice good food safety hygiene when handling and storing surimi
Proper handling and cooking mitigate the Listeria risk so imitation crab can be consumed safely.

Nutrition Pros of Imitation Crab When Pregnant

Within limits, imitation crab can provide beneficial nutrition for expecting mothers and babies:
  1. Lean Protein: Surimi supplies lean protein needed for fetus growth and development without much saturated fat.
  2. Vitamin B12: The vitamin B12 in imitation crab helps prevent deficiency in pregnancy. B12 is crucial for baby's brain and nervous system.
  3. Selenium: Imitation crab contains selenium, a key mineral for thyroid health and immunity during pregnancy.
  4. Calcium: The calcium in surimi helps meet increased maternal needs for fetal bone development.
When enjoyed in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet, imitation crab can provide useful nutrition during pregnancy.

Potential Cons of Eating Imitation Crab

Along with the positives, there are some potential downsides of imitation crab consumption in pregnancy:
  1. Sodium Content: The 330mg sodium per serving is quite high for pregnancy when blood volume increases. Excess sodium intake can exacerbate pregnancy-related hypertension and swelling.
  2. Added Sugars: Many brands add extra sugar to imitation crab. High sugar intakes are linked to excess maternal weight gain and gestational diabetes risk.
  3. Lack of Omega-3s: Unlike real crab, imitation crab is very low in essential omega-3s that are important for fetal brain and eye development.
  4. Food Dyes: Some imitation crab contains artificial colorings that pregnant women may prefer to avoid.
  5. Foodborne Illness: If not reheated properly, imitation crab carries a risk for Listeria infection.
While not on the "do not eat" list for pregnancy, these factors are worth considering when enjoying imitation crab.

Healthy Ways to Eat Imitation Crab When Pregnant

To safely reap the most benefits from imitation crab meat during pregnancy:
  1. Enjoy in moderation as part of a balanced diet, no more than 2-3 servings per week.
  2. Verify the product is pasteurized to reduce Listeria risk.
  3. Reheat pre-made imitation crab salads, dips and other dishes to steaming hot before eating.
  4. Avoid raw or cold imitation crab sushi unless from a trusted source.
  5. Read labels and pick lower sodium options when possible.
  6. Pair with fresh vegetables to reduce carbs and sugars.
  7. Choose surimi made without artificial dyes if you wish to avoid additives.
  8. Take a supplement with EPA/DHA omega-3s to make up for imitation crab's lack of these healthy fats.
  9. Always practice good hygiene and storage of imitation crab.

During pregnancy, it's perfectly fine to indulge in moderation of imitation crab dishes like California rolls from reputable restaurants or quality pre-packaged products. The small amounts of healthy protein, vitamins and minerals imitation crab provides can be beneficial. Just take care to reheat pre-made surimi foods, watch your sodium intake, and aim for no more than 2-3 servings per week as part of an overall nutritious prenatal diet to minimize risks. Being an informed seafood consumer when pregnant helps you balance enjoyment of favorite dishes like imitation crab while still promoting you and your baby's health.