Is Cod a Safe Fish During Pregnancy? Mercury and Benefits

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Cod is a very popular fish, so when you’re pregnant you want to make sure that it’s safe to eat, as some types of fish are high in mercury.

Cod is one of the safest types of fish to eat during pregnancy because it is fairly low in mercury. However, different species of cod have different considerations, and you should ensure cod is cooked and prepared properly to make sure it’s safe.

Fish is an excellent source of protein as it is low in fat, and also provides Omega-3s which are important for pregnancy.

This article will cover how safe it is to consume cod, because it’s found in many different dishes.

Is Cod High in Mercury?

On average, cod has a mercury concentration mean (PPM) of 0.111, which means it’s low in mercury.

It also makes cod a better choice compared to tuna, perch, monkfish, mahi-mahi, or halibut.

You can safely eat most species of cod two or three a week during pregnancy, and cod usually appears on many of the ‘best choice’ lists for pregnant women (source: FDA).

There are many species of cod, however.

If you were comparing the different types of cod, the cod with the lowest mercury levels is Atlantic cod and Blue cod.

The differences in cod species are explained more below.

Is Cod Fish Safe During Pregnancy?

Cod is safe to eat during pregnancy if it’s been cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F / 63C (source: USDA).

Pregnant women should avoid raw or undercooked cod due to the risk of foodborne illness or bacteria in raw fish (source: PMC).

Raw cod is rare, though you may come across cold-smoked cod (which we talk about later in this article), or cod sushi (called tara).

If you don’t have a food thermometer (though it’s a good idea to get one during pregnancy, and we recommend this one), then you can check by seeing if the fish flakes apart, and if it’s opaque – there should be no grey or jelly-like flesh.

cooked cod dinner with vegetables

Another thing to consider is that are plenty of different fish types that all fall under the generic term “cod” and they’re not all the same.

The types of cod you may encounter are Alaska cod, US and Canada Pacific cod, Atlantic cod, Japanese, and Russian Pacific cod.

Other types of cod you may come across are black cod, blue cod, and rock cod.

Black Cod is also called butterfish, or sablefish. Black cod is typically served in upscale restaurants and is prized for its soft, buttery texture.

Black cod is not a species of cod, however, and is more correctly known as sablefish.

Black cod (sablefish) has moderate levels of mercury and an excellent eco-rating (Source: EDF).

Blue Cod comes from New Zealand and is a bottom-feeder and is considered to be fine to eat several times a week, even for pregnant women (Source: HealthCenterNZ).

Rock Cod is found off the coast of Australia, New Zealand, and California. This fish is sometimes referred to as Pacific snapper or Pacific rockfish.

Rock Cod is not a first choice for pregnant women to eat, as rockfish is listed as having higher levels of mercury than most other types of fish (0.167 parts per million on average compared with regular cod at 0.111) (Source: FDA).

Alaska cod is typically found in the North Pacific and south of California, and the fish sold commercially comes from marine fisheries as opposed to fish farms.

Alaska cod is mostly caught with bottom trawls and has moderate levels of mercury compared to other types of cod. Alaska cod has the best eco-rating, so if the impact on the environment is important to you, you may decide to eat Alaska cod.

Pacific cod is found in the North Pacific and south of California. The Pacific cod that you buy in the US has almost all been caught within US waters and comes mostly from marine fisheries.

Atlantic cod may be one of the better choices for pregnant women to eat. This type of cod is found in the North Atlantic as well as the eastern parts of the Atlantic Ocean near France and around Iceland.

Most of the Atlantic cod that you can buy in the US is sourced from Iceland, Canada, and Norway.

Atlantic cod also comes from marine fisheries and are caught with bottom trawls. Atlantic cod is low in mercury and its eco-rating has improved in recent years (Source: Environmental Defense Fund).

Finally, there are Japanese and Russian Pacific cod. These types of cod are the least eco-friendly, and the mercury levels are unknown, so it is best to avoid this type of cod.

Small amounts of Pacific cod sold in the US are imported from China and Russia, so check to see where the cod you buy comes from (Source: EDF).

cod fish and chips with deep fried cod

Can I Eat Battered or Fried Cod During Pregnancy?

Whether it’s goujons with a dip or traditional fish and chips, fried or battered cod is safe during pregnancy if it’s fully cooked all the way through.

A good way to check this is to cut into the thickest part of the fish and check that it flakes and there are no translucent or jellyish areas.

Fried fish can be enjoyed in moderation during pregnancy, but it’s not the healthiest option. By frying your fish, you are actually losing out on a lot of its nutritional benefits.

Fish is rich in omega-3s, and the all-important EPA ad DHA contained in fish actually break down through an oxidation process when fish is exposed to high heat (Source: NCBI).

Tip: If you’re cooking cod at home, you have options. Instead of deep-frying your cod, you can bake it or broil it with herbs.

If you really want a crunchy outside without frying, roll your fillets in flour (gluten-free, if you wish). Then dip them in egg whites or beaten eggs, and then roll them in panko breadcrumbs (panko is a Japanese style of breadcrumbs that is larger than traditional breadcrumbs).

Bake your coated fish fillets, and you’ll see that they will be crispy on the outside, soft and delicious on the inside, and much healthier for you!

If you really want to pan-fry your cod, use an oil that has less of an impact upon the essential fatty acids of your fish. Peanut oil, corn oil, and canola oil are all good choices (Source: Journal of Food Science and Nutrition).

If you are eating out and the menu says fried cod, most restaurants will understand if you request that they bake or pan fry it instead.

More and more people are health-conscious, so you may find that your request comes as no surprise!

What Are The Benefits of Cod for Pregnant Women?

Cod is an excellent source of protein for very little fat and calories.

A 3-ounce portion of cod has 90 calories, only 5 of which are from fat. Cod also contains potassium, calcium, and iron (source: NutritionData).

Eating fish during pregnancy can help the baby’s growth and development, as well as offer benefits to heart health and lower the risk of obesity (Source: FDA).

Of course, many fish dishes are more nutritious depending on how you cook them, so opt for baked and broiled cod rather than fried.

Can I Eat Wild Cod During Pregnancy?

Most commercially-caught wild cod is safe to eat during pregnancy as these are from known fishing areas that are controlled and regulated.

The only time you might want to be extra careful when eating cod is if the fish has been caught by family or friends.

If you are offered wild cod, check for fish advisories to see if there is an advisory for the region in which the fish was caught.

If there is an advisory, you may want to eat something else, although the FDA advises eating just one serving and no other fish that week (Source: FDA).

cooked wild cod dinner

Is Smoked Cod Safe When Pregnant?

Cold-smoked fish is cured rather than cooked and can contain parasites or bacteria such as listeria.

To be on the safe side, you are better off avoiding eating cold-smoked cod while pregnant (Source: AJOL).

However, you can eat smoked cod if it has been hot smoked.

Cod that is hot smoked will say so on the label. Hot-smoked fish will have been prepared at a temperature above 160F / 71C for at least part of the smoking process, which means that any bacteria that could cause concern will have been killed (Source: USDA).

Smoked cod that is commercially available tends to be smoked black cod, or sometimes it will be listed as smoked sablefish.

Can I Eat Salt Cod When Pregnant?

Salt cod is only safe during pregnancy if it’s fully cooked.

This is because the long-term exposure to high salt concentrations does not eliminate Listeria.

Any Listeria bacteria present in fish prior to salt-curing could recover and grow during chilled storage, thereby making the fish unsafe to eat (Source: UIT).

The only way you can safely eat salt cod is to make sure that you cook it to above 165 degrees F / 74 degrees C (Source: FDA).

If you want to try any of the following dishes, cook your salt cod to a high temperature first. Or, if reheating, do so until the fish is steaming hot.

The following salt cod dishes are all safe if the cod is fully cooked:

  • Bacalao, the Spanish fish casserole, also in Portuguese Bacalhau
  • Fanesca, an Ecuadorian soup
  • Greek Bakaliaros – beer-battered salt cod
  • Insalata di Baccala – Italian salt cod salad
  • Jamaican Saltfish Fritters
  • Norwegian salt cod stew
  • Nova Scotia salt cod fish cakes
  • Saltfish souse – a mixture of salt cod and vegetables
  • Spanish stuffed Piquillo peppers

Overall, you now know that you can safely eat most cod two to three times a week, as long as it’s fully cooked.

Prioritize Atlantic cod if you can, and make sure your fish is cooked at the right temperature before eating.

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