Are Anchovies Safe When Pregnant? Are They Healthy?

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Anchovies, whether marinated, canned or raw, are often queried in pregnancy. Their umami, delicious taste makes them one of the most popular pregnancy cravings, too. But are they always safe, and if so, what are the health benefits? Find out more here.

Are Anchovies Safe When Pregnant? Anchovies are safe for pregnant women to eat if they’re from a can, tin or jar. Marinated, raw anchovies should be avoided from open containers such as in a deli. All anchovies can be made safe by cooking them.

Anchovies are probably one of the few foods that are not pasteurized or sterilized in the can or jar, so I’ve broken down all the possible ways of buying and serving anchovies, so you can check which is the safest option.

Are Anchovies Low in Mercury? What’s Their Mercury Level?

Before tackling the different types of anchovies, I’ll answer one of the most popular questions about them – and that’s whether they’re a low-mercury fish or not.

The US Food & Drug Administration has repeatedly tested certain species of fish for mercury content, and anchovies come in at a very low 0.016 PPM (parts per million) of mercury on average (source: FDA).

The Environmental Defense Fund also makes a distinction between the different species of anchovy that are found worldwide, but they all come into the “low mercury” classification (source: EDF).

Finally, a 2014 study in Turkey looked at hundreds of anchovy samples and found that levels of mercury in those who consumed them remained at safe levels “within permitted ranges” (source: PMC).

The upshot of all this? Anchovies are low mercury types of fish and can be enjoyed safely in pregnancy without worrying about their mercury level. Since they are so intensely flavored, it’s not usual to eat large quantities of anchovies, either.

Note that if you’re in the UK, the NHS say to limit your intake of oily fish like anchovies to two portions a week. This is due to concerns about pollutant content (source: NHS). Other countries don’t have this recommended limit.

marinated anchovies on a blue plate

Can Pregnant Women Eat Raw, Marinated Anchovies?

The only type of anchovy that pregnant women should be avoided is the cold, marinated, raw type you get at delis, only if they’re stored or served from open containers, due to the risk of cross-contamination.

Marinated or cured anchovies are easy to spot as they are white fillets of anchovy (rather than brownish) and they usually still have their skins on.

Bacteria do not survive well in marinades such as the acidic ones used to cure anchovies. However, one of the most acid-resistant pathogens is listeria (source: Journal of Food Safety).

For this reason, marinated anchovies that come factory-packed in tubs or containers are OK to eat during pregnancy, whereas it’s probably better to avoid ones served or stored in open containers, such as seen at deli counters.

Pregnant women should avoid raw, NON-marinated anchovies and any other uncured and uncooked fish, due to the small but significant risk of bacterial contamination (source: London Gynecology).

Canned / Tinned or Anchovies in a Jar During Pregnancy

Unlike almost every other canned fish like tuna, anchovies aren’t pasteurized or sterilized with heat. Instead, they are “semi preserved” (source: Crown Prince) because cooking them in the can will turn them to mush – anchovies break down really easily when they’re cooked.

Although “semi preserved” usually means that something should be avoided in pregnancy, anchovies are slightly different because of the way they’re processed, with a large amount of salt.

Salted anchovies (the type in cans or jars) are safe to eat in pregnancy. This is because it’s extremely difficult for bacteria to survive when anchovies are processed in this way, with salt (source: Journal of Food Safety).

Is Anchovy Paste OK When Pregnant?

Anchovy paste can be treated the same way as tinned or canned anchovies. The paste isn’t raw, but it’s ‘semi preserved’ using salt and sometimes, other preservatives.

Anchovy paste is safe to eat if you’re pregnant, but remember to store it in the fridge once you’ve opened it, and use it within the time shown on the label.

caesar salad with anchovies

What About Anchovies in a Caesar Salad During Pregnancy?

Caesar salads can come with either type of anchovy – fresh and marinated, or canned and salted.

For more on eating Caesar salads in pregnancy, read this article – because the anchovies aren’t the only thing to look out for, including the dressing.

Are Anchovies Healthy/Good for You When You’re Pregnant?

Anchovies are a safe and healthy option for pregnant women as they’re low in mercury and contain essential omega-3 fatty acids (source: Mayo Clinic). However, as they’re an oily fish that may contain small amounts of potential contaminants like dioxins, they should be limited to a couple of portions a week (sources, Wikipedia, BBC).

Bear in mind that a ‘normal’ serving of anchovy is quite small as they’re usually eaten as a flavoring or garnish, rather than on their own, so you’re unlikely to go over the recommended levels unless you’re eating an entire can or jar!

Anchovies are very low in fat and calories and contain no sugar. They’re a rich source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins A and K, plus folate and selenium (source: NutritionData).

The only caution with anchovies fish in pregnancy is that they’re usually high in sodium, as they’re salted before packaging if they’re in a can or jar. Fresh, marinated anchovies will contain less salt. As anchovies are eaten in small amounts, this is only a concern if you’re watching your sodium intake.

Overall, anchovies are a super tasty way of pepping up some of the foods that are great for you in pregnancy, like salads, veggies and lean meats (I like adding them to a rack of lamb tenderloin). They’re pretty versatile, and will go just as well stirred into pasta as over a pizza, too – so there are plenty of anchovy options to choose from.

You might also be interested in:

  • Whether or not it’s safe to eat olives in pregnancy
  • Other types of fish and seafood safety articles
  • A guide to how much tuna you can eat – including mercury levels