Eating Grouper During Pregnancy: Is It a Safe Fish?

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Grouper is a versatile fish which is why you might consider it as a healthy fish during pregnancy. As with all fish, you should check mercury content and cooking safety during pregnancy which we will walk through in this article. 

Grouper is safe during pregnancy. Due to its moderate mercury content, it should only be consumed once a week and must be fully cooked before consumption. Grouper has many nutritional benefits that are good for pregnant women, too.

Grouper is used in many dishes, thanks to its mild flavor and ability to absorb strong flavors and dressings (which is great for pregnant women with strong cravings!). However, pregnant women need to be cautious when it comes to how often they consume grouper, and how to cook it – which I’ll explain here.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Grouper?

Grouper is generally safe to eat for pregnant women but like all fish, grouper needs to be cooked completely before consumption. Grouper needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F / 63C during pregnancy(source: USDA).

There are many different kinds of grouper, and they are in the same family as sea bass. Most of these types of fish are safe in moderation during pregnancy.

The most popular kinds of grouper are black grouper, red grouper, and gag grouper which are all safe during pregnancy. Almost all grouper species should only be enjoyed once a week due to their moderate amount of mercury.

fresh raw grouper on a plate with herbs and spices

Can I Eat Raw Grouper if I’m Pregnant?

Raw and undercooked grouper should be avoided during pregnancy due to the risk of bacterial contamination and foodborne illness (source: PMC). All fish should be cooked all the way through before consumption during pregnancy to ensure that any pathogens have been killed. 

Grouper sushi or sashimi should be avoided in pregnancy. It’s sometimes called ‘hata’ on sushi menus. While all kinds of grouper have been used in sushi, scamp seems to be the most popular because it’s the least prone to parasites. For more on safe sushi choices during pregnancy, you can check out our complete guide here.

Beyond sushi, grouper is also common in ceviche which is a raw-fish dish made with lemon or lime. Raw grouper ceviche is not safe during pregnancy, but you can alter the dish and marinate fully cooked grouper instead. 

Is Grouper High in Mercury?

The general rule of thumb when it comes to the mercury content of fish is that larger predatory fish tend to have the most mercury. With groupers sometimes hitting up to 400 pounds it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that grouper can sometimes have a high amount of mercury (source: Fin and Fly).

Imported grouper, as well as both black and red grouper from the Gulf of Mexico, has a moderate amount of mercury (source: EDF). All species of grouper have a mean mercury ppm (parts per mille, or thousand) of 0.448, which is considered moderate.

For comparison, low-mercury fish like fresh salmon average 0.022 ppm, and cod average 0.111 ppm (source: FDA). While gag grouper – one of the better grouper choices – has 0.271 ppm (source: leegov). 

It’s worth mentioning that “grouper” is a broad term. There are many species of grouper with varying levels of mercury:

  • Graysby grouper  0.16 mg/kg of mercury 
  • Rock hind grouper: 0.18 mg/kg of mercury
  • Speckled hint: 0.20 mg/kg of mercury 
  • Yellowedge grouper: 0.23 mg/kg of mercury
  • Goliath grpuper: 0.64 mg/kg of mercury 
  • Red grouper: 0.17 mg/kg of mercury
  • Warsaw grouper: 0.24 mg/kg of mercury 
  • Snowby grouper: 0.20 mg/kg of mercury
  • Black grouper: 0.91 mg/kg of mercury
    (source: Transactions of the American Fisheries Society)

Note that mercury ppm is not the same measurement as mg/kg, but these totals are given for comparison between species, in case you have a choice of grouper.

There are also environmental concerns when it comes to fishing groupers. Gag, black and red grouper from the Gulf of Mexico have moderate eco-friendly ratings while imported grouper, Warsaw, snowy and yellow edge grouper score poorly when it comes to sustainability (source: EDF).

Not only does grouper have a fairly high carbon footprint of 5.4 kg to produce 1 kg of fish but also fishing can damage coral and discarded fishing nets litter the ocean (source: healabel).

Many grouper fisheries are also depleted with the exceptions of red and black grouper in the Gulf of Mexico. Due to their unusual mating rituals as many fish spawning in big numbers has made them easier to fish in bulk  (source: EDF).

How grouper is fished doesn’t make a difference to its pregnancy safety profile, but you may want to bear this in mind if you prefer sustainable or more ethical options. 

How Often Should I Eat Grouper When Pregnant?

Despite the varying mercury levels, all kinds of grouper should only be consumed once a week at the most during pregnancy. 

If you accidentally eat grouper more often, then you shouldn’t worry, but substitute a lower mercury fish for the rest of that week or month. Fish – including grouper – has many benefits and nutrients that are essential in pregnancy, so you should still eat fish, if you can.

Other kinds of fish, especially non-oily fish, can be eaten up to three times a week and is even recommended due to the omega-3 content, but higher mercury fish like grouper must be limited. 

As grouper is part of the sea bass family, black sea bass is the closest substitute and has a mean mercury PPM of 0.167, which is much lower. Saltwater seabass, striped seabass and rockfish have the same mercury level as black seabass and also make good substitutes (source: FDA).

Cod is even lower in mercury again and can be enjoyed up to three times a week which makes it an ideal substitute to grouper, if you have the choice.

battered grouper on a white plate

Grouper Dishes and Pregnancy Safety

Battered or deep-fried grouper is safe during pregnancy as long as it has been fully cooked. While this can be difficult to tell due to the coating, cut into the thickest part of the grouper to make sure that there are no undercooked or translucent areas. Cooked fish should be opaque and flake apart easily.

Bear in mind that fried and battered foods contain high levels of salt and fat which are not recommended in excess during pregnancy. You can enjoy them in moderation, though!

A safer and healthier way to enjoy a meal similar to “battered” grouper is grouper baked with a crumb topping such as breadcrumbs or citus and cilantro

Baked grouper is very versatile and can be enjoyed Mediterranean style with tomatoes and olives and seasoned with oregano, cumin and paprika.

Pan-seared grouper is another healthy option to be enjoyed with tomato or brown-butter sauce but be sure to cut the fish and inspect it for any undercooked sections before eating.

Overall, grouper is a tasty fish that can be a safe addition to your pregnancy diet, if it’s cooked thoroughly and eaten in moderation.