Can I Eat Fried Shrimp When Pregnant? Safety and Risks

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Shrimp is versatile, delicious, and healthy food. But you might wonder if fried shrimp has the same health benefits, especially during pregnancy.

Fried shrimp is a safe choice for pregnancy, as long as you eat it in moderation. Avoid fried shrimp made with a heavy batter, or use an air fryer to make it. High-fat foods can negatively affect your growing unborn baby.

So, how can you make fried shrimp healthier and safer? Should you be worried about the mercury content? We’ll address these questions (and others) below, so read on!

Is Fried Shrimp Safe When Pregnant?

Fried shrimp is safe during pregnancy. However, we don’t recommend deep-fried shrimp, since deep-fried foods tend to absorb more oil than regular or direct pan-frying or sautéing.

According to the USDA, the safe minimum internal temperature for cooked shrimp is 145 °F (62.8 °C) (source: USDA). The FDA advises that shrimp should be safe when it is pearly and opaque (source: FDA).

When batter or breading is added to fried shrimp, it can be harder to judge whether or not the shrimp is cooked. In such a case, using a meat thermometer is your safest option.

The ingredients used in the batter or breading add to the total calories of your shrimp. Food that is fried with batter or breading – such as tempura shrimp – will absorb more oil than food made without it (source: Breadings – What They Are and How They Are Used).

The ingredients used in the batter or breading also make a difference. For example, if you use coconut as breading, the fried shrimp will be more calorie-dense because coconut is high in fat.

A high-fat diet can cause metabolic and molecular changes and behavioral deviations in the baby that can be irreversible (source: Nutrition Reviews).

Hydrocolloids are commonly used to decrease oil absorption in fried foods. They can be used before or during the cooking process (source: Food Hydrocolloids). The most common hydrocolloid used in fried foods is cellulose (source: Reference Module in Food Science). 

fried shrimp with sauce on a white plate

In a recent study, shrimp was fried with hydrocolloid solutions. Carboxymethyl cellulose, tragacanth, guar, and zedo gum were utilized. All the solutions except zedo gum were effective against the absorption of oil in fried shrimp.

The study concluded that this could be a good way to cook fried shrimp in an industrial setting (source: Journal of Food Science and Technology).

This all begs the question: are hydrocolloids safe during pregnancy?

Hydrocolloids can be derived from plants, animals, or chemicals. Natural hydrocolloids, particularly algae-derived ones, are better and safer than synthetic ones (source: Bioengineered).

However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about hydrocolloids, so it’s best to eat fried shrimp in moderation. To avoid too much fat, you can use the air fryer instead, and opt to exclude coconut, eggs, and other calorie-dense food from the batter or breading.

Is Fried Shrimp High in Mercury?

Shrimp is considered a shellfish, and it contains the lowest amount of mercury at only 0.009 ppm (source: FDA). The safe limit for fish and shellfish is 0.5 to 1 ppm (source: Action Levels for Poisonous Or Deleterious Substances in Human Food and Animal Feed). 

While both the FDA and the EPA rank shrimp under the “Best Choice” category for its low mercury content, a recent study was conducted to examine the total mercury level, type of harvest, brand, and total fat level of store-bought shrimp.

Their results found that the mercury levels of the ten different brands differed. There were no considerable disparities between wild-caught shrimp in the U.S. and imported farm-raised shrimp. 

When it comes to fat content, the shrimp with the lowest amount of fat had more levels of mercury than the shrimp with the highest fat content.

The researchers concluded that the mercury level in all the shrimp was low, although levels varied depending on the brand. They also noted that fat content could be a determiner in choosing shrimp with lower mercury concentrations (source: Food Science & Nutrition). 

shrimp fried rice on a platter with chopsticks

The researchers did not explain why or how this is the case. It may be because mercury is fat-soluble and mainly collects in the viscera (source: Water Quality Monitoring and Management).

Unfortunately, cleaning or cooking of raw fish or raw shellfish does not seem to decrease mercury levels. This includes fried shrimp (source: Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation). 

So, how many fried shrimp can you have? Pregnant women are advised to eat 2 to 3 servings (4 oz. per serving) per week of fish or shellfish under the “Best Choices” category (source: FDA). 

If you went overboard for the whole week, you can cut back on your servings for the next week or two (source: FDA). 

Is Shrimp Fried Rice OK During Pregnancy?

Shrimp fried rice is safe to eat during pregnancy. To make it healthier, use less oil when cooking the shrimp and rice, and use a minimal amount of salt.

We hope this article has shed some light on the safety of fried shrimp during pregnancy!