Can Pregnant Women Eat Monkfish and Monkfish Liver?

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Monkfish used to be pretty much ignored outside of some parts of Europe and Japan, but it’s gaining popularity these days due to its sweet, meaty texture.

As monkfish makes it way to more and more menus across the world, many pregnant women wonder if it’s a fish that should be on the ‘safe’ list. Only the tails and livers are eaten, so I’m covering monkfish liver, too.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Monkfish and Monkfish Liver? Monkfish tails are usually safe in pregnancy, depending on how they’re cooked. Monkfish liver is very high in vitamin A so it should be eaten only in small amounts during pregnancy. Some countries recommend monkfish liver be avoided.

In this article, I’ll cover some popular ways monkfish is cooked, and also looking at the nutritional value of monkfish, plus its levels of mercury, too.

When is Monkfish Unsafe to Eat in Pregnancy?

Monkfish, like other types of fish, should never be eaten raw or undercooked if you’re pregnant, due to the risk of contamination with parasites or bacteria (source: FDA). It’s very rarely seen in sushi (e.g. sashimi) but should be avoided if it is. This is different from monkfish liver, covered below.

Fish, including monkfish, should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145F / 63C (source: USDA). This is easy to measure with a food thermometer (my recommended one is here).

What’s difficult about monkfish is that it remains meaty and quite solid rather than flaky when it’s cooked, a little similar to lobster (it’s sometimes referred to as “poor man’s lobster” for this reason).

Usually, you can tell that fish is fully cooked as it flakes easily – but you won’t get this visual cue from cooked monkfish, so either use a thermometer or cut a large piece in half to make sure it’s opaque, firm (not jellyish) and ‘done’ all the way through before you eat it.

Most dishes that contain monkfish are safe, and some popular ones are listed later in this article if you want to check them individually.

ankimo, steamed monkfish liver in a bowl

Can Pregnant Women Eat Monkfish Liver (Ankimo)?

Monkfish liver is a popular dish in Japan, where it’s called ‘Ankimo’. This is usually sliced monkfish liver that has been marinated in sake or rice wine, and then steamed. It used to be rare outside Japan but is making its way into many higher-end sushi restaurants in the West.

Pregnant women should avoid monkfish liver in large quantities, as it’s very high in vitamin A. Although vitamin A is needed in pregnancy, too much of it can cause complications, and potentially harm the baby. Monkfish liver is not recommended in the UK at all, due to its high Vitamin A content (sources: UN University Journal, NHS).

The same applies to other liver products, such as fish liver oils, or liver from animals. Be aware of how much you’re consuming.

Monkfish liver is also high in calories and fat, which is another reason to eat it in very small amounts during pregnancy (source: Japan Food Standard Table).

What are the Mercury Levels in Monkfish?

The Environmental Defense Fund list monkfish as having a ‘moderate’ level of mercury (source: EDF).

It’s also listed as a fish that isn’t on the ‘lowest’ list, but monkfish is not high in mercury, either, compared to some other types of fish (source: APA). It falls somewhere in the middle.

When several catches were measured, monkfish averaged 0.161 PPM mercury, which is also considered a ‘moderate’ level (where 0.1 is “low”) (source: FDA).

This means monkfish is a moderate-mercury fish, and is safe in pregnancy if eaten in the right amounts (see below).

baked monkfish with tomatoes in abowl

How Much Monkfish Can I Eat During Pregnancy?

As a moderate mercury fish, you can safely eat up to one 4oz portion per week of monkfish during pregnancy (source: FDA).

Restaurant portions are usually well over the recommended portion size of 4 – 5oz (up to 140g) so check this when you’re eating out. One 4-5oz portion of monkfish should be as big as your palm, though this is sometimes hard to tell if the monkfish is cubed or in a sauce, like a curry.

It’s much better to eat a variety of fish (if you can) when you’re pregnant, rather than having just one type. If you’re eating some monkfish, then obviously your fish ‘allowance’ can be topped up with other fish varieties, especially those lower in mercury content.

Is Monkfish Healthy / Good in Pregnancy?

Monkfish is a lean, protein-rich fish that makes a good option in pregnancy, as it’s rarely cooked in unhealthier ways (such as battered or deep-fried).

Monkfish is a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, selenium, phosphorous and potassium, all of which are essential in pregnancy (source: Nutrition Data).

The great think about monkfish is its versatility. It withstands cooking methods like roasting or sauteeing without having to revert to heavy marinades or batter, so it can be a healthy way of fish consumption in pregnancy, too.

Tips on Choosing and Cooking Monkfish When Pregnant

When you’re cooking and eating monkfish, there are some things you can look out for to make it a healthier choice in pregnancy:

fresh monkfish in the market
  • If you’re buying monkfish to cook yourself, check for freshness. Blood should be visible in the tail of a monkfish that has been caught recently. If you see dried, brown or ‘old’ looking bloodlines on monkfish, this means it’s been around longer. Monkfish should smell fresh, and not fishy (source: Seafood Source).
  • Try broiled, roasted or baked monkfish, as this adds flavor without calories. Unlike many other fish, monkfish won’t fall apart under these more severe cooking types, so it’s a good opportunity to eat tasty, lean fish. You can grill monkfish, but grilled food is best kept to a moderate level in pregnancy – here’s why.
  • Monkfish is often found in curries, which can be heavy on calories and fat depending on the sauce (for example, if it’s heavy on coconut milk or butter). Spicy food isn’t harmful to baby, but it may not agree with you in pregnancy (read more about spicy food in pregnancy here), which is also something to look out for, too.
  • Unlike many other fish, fine dining restaurants might serve monkfish medium, or even medium-rare, like a steak. This is unsuitable for pregnant women, so if you’re eating out and ordering monkfish, ask for it to be well done, or medium-well.

    If this can be measured, it should reach an internal temperature of 145F / 63c. For more on this, check out this guide to steaks (including fish) when you’re pregnant and also a pregnant woman’s guide to fine dining and eating in restaurants, too.

If you want to increase your intake of healthy seafood and fish during pregnancy, you might also like: