When you’re pregnant – and even when you’re not – you know that you should avoid eating fish or seafood that’s high in mercury.
Fish like halibut provides many key nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, so eating fish is good for your health. But is it safe when you’re pregnant?
Halibut is one of the types of fish that is relatively low in mercury and is therefore safe to eat when pregnant, within limits, and if it’s fully cooked.
We’ll look in detail at how safe it is to consume halibut, and what you need to look for:
Is Halibut Safe When Pregnant?
Halibut is safe to eat during pregnancy as long as you cook it thoroughly, and restrict your consumption to once a week.
Halibut are flat fish, like sole or flounder. The types of halibut you may encounter are Pacific halibut (also referred to as Alaskan halibut), California halibut, and Atlantic halibut.
Compared to other fish, halibut is considered to be a ‘good choice’ (rather than a ‘best’ choice). Therefore eating it more than once a week is not recommended (Source: FDA).
Some types of halibut are safer than others because of differing mercury levels (see below).
Overall, halibut is a nutritious fish. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, the FDA says you can consume 8-12 ounces of fish and seafood per week, provided you choose low-mercury options.
Fish like halibut is a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B12 and D, and minerals such as iron, zinc, iodine, and selenium (Source: FDA).
Is Halibut High in Mercury?
When average mercury measurements were taken by the FDA, halibut came in at 0.241 PPM (parts per million) of mercury.
To put this into perspective, this was higher than most other fish such as cod, snapper, salmon, Pollock, bass, or hake (source: FDA).
This is why it’s recommended that consumption of halibut during pregnancy is limited to one portion a week. One portion is a half fillet, around 5oz (150g). Bear in mind that restaurants often serve much bigger portions than this.
If you do accidentally eat halibut more than once a week, or eat a large portion, there’s no need to worry – what you’re trying to avoid is the cumulative mercury buildup. If you do accidentally eat more halibut, try to limit your consumption of other moderate mercury fish for the rest of that week.
However, bear in mind that not all types of halibut are equal here. Our first choice is Pacific halibut.
Unlike other types of halibut, Pacific halibut move into the deep ocean as they mature. As bottom feeders, this means their food is lower overall in contaminants. Pacific halibut has moderate levels of mercury compared to other types (Source: EDF).
Pacific halibut also has a higher eco-rating than other types of halibut, which may be important to you if you want to take the environment into consideration in your food choices (Source: EDF). Remember that you may see this fish referred to as Alaskan halibut.
California halibut has elevated levels of mercury compared to Pacific halibut. It doesn’t have a good eco-rating, as bottom trawls (dragging a sea net along the ocean floor) can be used to catch these fish. Often caught in the same nets are birds, other fish, and sea mammals, many of which are protected species (Source: EDF).
Atlantic halibut is found in the North Atlantic. It has moderate levels of mercury compared to California halibut, but its eco rating is very low. This fish grows slowly compared to other types of halibut, and it has been overfished to the extent that commercial fishing in the US is now illegal.
Atlantic halibut is still available in the US from Canada, the Russian Federation, Iceland, and Norway, which is why you can still find it in the supermarket.
In restaurants, you’ll often have to ask which species of halibut is served, as it’s usually just listed as ‘halibut’.
Can I Eat Fried Halibut When Pregnant?
In short, yes you can eat fried halibut during pregnancy. However, the same rules apply with halibut whether it’s steamed, baked, boiled or fried. Once a week is fine, but try not to eat it more often than that.
Fried halibut might taste good, but there are better ways to prepare it that can taste just as delicious and keep more of the health-giving benefits of your fish.
You may not know that when you fry fish, you are actually decreasing the amount of nutritional benefits in your fish! This is because high heat causes beneficial fatty acids such as EPA and DHA to break down through oxidation (Source: NCBI).
Some tips on healthier halibut (if you’re making it yourself):
- Instead of frying your fish, try dipping it in coconut milk and rolling it in crushed dried onions, or dried coconut, or a delicious spice mix of flour, smoked paprika, sea salt, and fresh pepper.
- Bake or broil your fillets – you’ll get a crispy batter on the outside, delicious fish on the inside, and better health benefits overall.
- If you want to pan-fry your halibut, do so in either peanut oil, canola oil or corn oil. These oils offer better results in terms of the effects of frying on fatty acids (Source: NCBI).
Want some inspiration for healthy ways to prepare your fish? We found this video by the Stay at Home Chef, with a delicious recipe for honey lemon halibut:
If you are in a restaurant that offers fried halibut, ask if they can pan fry or bake it instead. Those are healthier options than deep frying, and most restaurants will be happy to comply in today’s increasingly health-conscious society.
Can You Eat Raw Halibut When Pregnant?
In short, you should avoid eating raw halibut during pregnancy. This is because when you are pregnant, your immune system is often weaker, putting you more at risk of developing a foodborne illness.
Cooking fish thoroughly kills many of the microbes that cause foodborne illness (Source: FDA).
Cook halibut and other fish at 145 degrees F / 63C to make sure it is cooked through. Cooked halibut should be opaque, solid white with no jellyish texture. It should flake easily.
Raw halibut is fairly uncommon, but it does appear on sushi menus, where it will probably be listed as ‘Ohyo’ or ‘Hirame’. Raw halibut sushi should be avoided – for more on this, check out our ultimate guide to safe sushi during pregnancy.
Be careful with smoked halibut, as cold-smoked fish can still contain parasites such as listeria. To be on the safe side, smoked fish is best avoided unless it’s hot smoked, and therefore fully cooked (Source: AJOL).
Check the ingredients of a dish if you are eating out – because halibut is such a thick fish, sometimes it can be slightly undercooked in the center. Always cut into the thickest part of the fish to check that it’s done all the way through.
You now know that you can safely eat halibut once a week. Prioritize Pacific halibut if you can, and make sure your fish is cooked thoroughly before eating.
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