Is Catfish Safe to Eat in Pregnancy? Mercury Levels & More

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Fish is an important part of many pregnancy diets. Lots of pregnant women know that it’s good to eat plenty of lean protein like fish, but that they also have to stick to low-mercury options, too. Catfish is eaten all over the world, so I investigated whether it’s safe in pregnancy.

Is Catfish Safe To Eat in Pregnancy? Catfish can be a healthy option in pregnancy, depending on how it’s cooked. Catfish is generally low in mercury, so it can be eaten a couple of times a week when you’re pregnant.

There are some subtle differences between farmed and wild catfish, and the various species found in different parts of the world. This article covers what to look for when ordering, cooking and eating catfish.

Is Catfish High in Mercury?

There are many species of catfish, so it’s useful to know which type you’re eating before assessing whether it’s low enough in mercury to be safe in pregnancy.

If you’re in the USA and some parts of Europe, you’re likely to find wild or farmed Channel Catfish or Blue Catfish (source: Wikipedia). These are the types covered here and the ones you’re most likely to find on your plate, or for sale.

There are other types of catfish available, but they’re usually given a more specific name, e.g. Pangasius or basa – which will be covered separately.

The FDA lists catfish as having a mean mercury concentration of 0.024PPM (parts per million) in their tests. This means that catfish have low levels of mercury. To put it into perspective, anything below 0.1PPM is still considered to be “low” in mercury (source: FDA).

Additionally, the Environmental Defense Fund also confirms that USA catfish fit into the “low mercury” category. They also have a good eco-rating (source: EDF).

If you’re eating wild catfish, buying it from a fisherman/woman or catching it yourself, check the local fish advisories that may be in place in certain rivers or streams. Occasionally water quality issues might affect the fish you eat, so it’s better to check (source: APA).

Overall though, catfish is a good, low-mercury option to add to the selection of fish you can eat safely in pregnancy.

smoked catfish fillet on a white plate

Can I Eat Catfish in Early Pregnancy?

Catfish, when fully cooked, can be enjoyed in early pregnancy and throughout all the rest of your trimesters, too. Fish is a healthy source of protein, vitamins, and minerals and should be eaten 2-3 times a week (source: FDA).

Choose a variety of fish where possible, and always stick to lower mercury options (catfish is one of them).

Is Catfish Good for You in Pregnancy? What Are The Benefits?

It’s recommended that pregnant women try to increase their fish intake during pregnancy as its a nutritious, lean source of protein and many vitamins and minerals (source: APA).

Catfish is lean and low in calories, coming in at around 150 calories per fillet (one serving). The same average serving contains 26g of protein, which is up to 25% of the recommended intake during pregnancy (source: APA).

Catfish is also a good source of many minerals and vitamins such as Thiamin, Vitamin B12, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium and Selenium. Catfish is also an excellent source of some long-chain fatty acids, and vitamin D (source: Nutrition Data).

Of course, the health value of catfish depends on how it’s cooked…

fried catfish with potato salad on a plate

Can I Eat Fried Catfish When Pregnant?

This is a common question as catfish is really popular at fish fries. Even in restaurants, catfish often comes breaded and fried, or cornmeal coated and fried.

Yes, it’s delicious, and you can eat it in pregnancy, but try to eat deep-fried, high-fat foods like this in moderation throughout pregnancy. Opt for healthier options where you can – covered below.

By the way, if you’re eating fish with tartar sauce – a popular accompaniment – you’ll probably be interested in this guide to tartar sauce in pregnancy, too.

Tips on Cooking and Eating Catfish During Pregnancy

Catfish can stand up to really strong flavors and spices, as it does in many dishes from the Southern US. Baking catfish is much healthier than frying. Here’s one of the best baked catfish recipes, from Carliss’ Spices:

Of course, you could serve yours with a fresh salad, veggies or a jacket potato rather than fries. Catfish is also good roasted, broiled or sauteed.

African cuisine often features catfish and the Nigerian dish, Catfish pepper soup, is very tasty, and yes, you can eat spicy food when you’re pregnant. There’s a recipe here if you want to try it – you might have to get some of the spices from Amazon or somewhere similar. All the ingredients in Catfish pepper soup are safe in pregnancy.

When cooking and eating catfish, always check that the catfish is fully cooked. Pregnant women should avoid undercooked or raw fish due to the risk of foodborne illness (source: Mayo Clinic).

If the catfish is fried and it’s a particularly thick fillet, it might be hard to tell if it’s ‘done’ all the way through, so cut the largest piece in half. The flesh should be firm and flaky, not jellyish. The same goes for when catfish is cooked any other way – cut into it and make sure it’s fully cooked first.

There are many articles about other species of fish on this site, to help you vary your diet and choose healthy pregnancy options. Some include: