Eating nutritious foods is especially important during pregnancy to support the growth and development of your baby. Seafood like crab can be an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals for pregnant women. However, there are also concerns about potential risks from mercury exposure and foodborne illnesses with some types of seafood. So can you safely eat crab while pregnant?
This comprehensive guide examines the benefits and safety considerations of eating crab during pregnancy. It provides tips for choosing and preparing crab properly to reduce risks, guidelines for recommended intake, and the best types of crab to eat when expecting. Read on for advice to help pregnant women make informed decisions about including crab in their diets.
- Crab can provide beneficial nutrition like protein, omega-3s, vitamin B12, zinc, copper, and selenium during pregnancy.
- It’s generally safe to eat crab in moderation when pregnant as long as you choose low mercury varieties like Atlantic blue crab.
- Avoid raw or undercooked crab to prevent foodborne illnesses like listeriosis. Properly handle, cook, and store crab.
- Limit albacore crab and king crab due to higher mercury levels. Stick to 8-12 oz of crab per week when pregnant.
- Crab cakes, crab bisque, and crab salad are delicious ways to safely enjoy crab during pregnancy.
Is It Safe to Eat Crab While Pregnant?
Seafood like crab can be a healthy addition to your diet during pregnancy. It provides excellent nutrition for you and your growing baby. However, there are some important safety factors to consider before eating crab while pregnant.
The two main concerns with eating crab during pregnancy are:
- Mercury exposure: Some types of seafood contain high levels of mercury, which can be harmful in high amounts.
- Foodborne illness: Raw or undercooked crab may contain bacteria or parasites that can cause foodborne disease.
As long as you choose crab varieties that are low in mercury and cook crab properly, it can be safe to eat in moderation during pregnancy. Follow the recommendations for intake and avoid high mercury options like king crab.
Thoroughly cooking crab to an internal temperature of 145°F kills any potential parasites or bacteria present. This prevents the risk of foodborne illnesses like listeriosis.
Pregnant women are at higher risk of developing foodborne illness, which can cause serious complications like preterm delivery, miscarriage, or stillbirth. So properly handling and preparing crab is especially important.
Nutritional Benefits of Crab During Pregnancy
Crab can provide many beneficial nutrients that help support a healthy pregnancy:
Crab is an excellent source of high-quality protein. A 3 oz serving of crab contains about 20g of protein. Protein is essential for your baby’s growth and development during pregnancy. It also helps maintain and repair maternal tissues.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Crab provides omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA. These are critical for your baby’s brain, eye, and nervous system development. Omega-3s may also help reduce the risk of preterm birth.
Crab is high in vitamin B12, providing over 100% of the recommended daily amount in a 3 oz portion. Vitamin B12 assists in red blood cell formation and neurological function.
Zinc supports your immune system and cell growth during pregnancy. A lack of zinc can increase complications. Crab provides a good amount of this mineral.
Copper helps form red blood cells and keeps your immune system working properly. It also aids in iron absorption. Crab contains copper.
This antioxidant mineral provides benefits for your thyroid and immune health. It also promotes fetal neurological development. Crab is a good source of selenium.
Eating crab in moderation during pregnancy can help provide higher amounts of these essential nutrients for you and your developing baby.
Mercury Levels in Crab
Like many types of seafood, crab can contain traces of mercury. At high levels, mercury is toxic and can impair neurological development.
However, different varieties of crab have lower or higher mercury content:
- Atlantic blue crab
- Dungeness crab
- Snow crab
- Stone crab
- King crab legs
- Golden king crab
- Red king crab
- Snow crab from the Bering Sea
Pregnant women should choose crab like Atlantic blue crab, snow crab, and Dungeness crab more often since they have very low mercury levels.
Avoid eating frequent servings of red king crab, golden king crab, and snow crab from the Bering Sea due to their higher mercury content.
As long as you limit intake of higher mercury crab and follow serving recommendations, eating crab in moderation during pregnancy is considered safe.
Foodborne Illnesses From Crab
Raw or undercooked crab poses a risk of foodborne illness during pregnancy. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites in contaminated seafood can cause diseases like:
- Salmonella: Causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps
- Vibrio vulnificus: Causes vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain
- Listeria monocytogenes: Causes fever, muscle aches, and nausea
- Norovirus: Leads to severe vomiting and diarrhea
Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get listeriosis from foodborne germs like listeria. This bacterial infection can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor, and illness or death in newborns.
To avoid foodborne illnesses from crab, follow these safe preparation guidelines:
- Cook crab thoroughly to an internal temperature of 145°F to kill potential bacteria and parasites present.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked crab products like sushi.
- Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces that touch raw crab to prevent cross-contamination.
- Refrigerate cooked crab within 2 hours and use within 3-4 days.
- Heat leftovers to 165°F until steaming hot before eating.
How to Choose and Prepare Crab Safely
To reduce the risks of mercury exposure and foodborne illness, follow these recommendations when selecting and preparing crab:
Choose Fresh, High-Quality Crab
- Purchase crab from reputable sellers and check sell-by dates.
- Ensure crab smells fresh, not fishy or ammonia-like.
- Pre-cooked crab should be chilled, not warm or room temperature.
- Cook crab to an internal temperature of 145°F.
- Boiling, steaming, baking, and grilling are safe cooking methods.
- When microwaving, cover and rotate crab to ensure even cooking.
- Store and prepare raw crab separately from other foods.
- Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for raw and cooked crab.
- Wash hands, counters, tools, and surfaces after handling raw crab.
- Refrigerate cooked crab within 2 hours of cooking.
- Divide into shallow containers for fast cooling.
- Use cooked crab within 3-4 days.
Reheat Leftovers Properly
- Reheat crab dishes to at least 165°F until hot and steaming.
- Bring sauces, soups, and chowders containing crab to a boil.
- Discard crab dishes if not reheated to 165°F within 2 hours.
Following these safe handling practices reduces your risk of foodborne illnesses like listeriosis, allowing you to enjoy crab during pregnancy.
Recommended Servings of Crab When Pregnant
Health experts recommend limiting seafood intake to 2-3 servings per week when pregnant or breastfeeding. A serving is about 4 ounces.
For crab specifically, aim for 8-12 ounces total per week as part of your overall seafood intake. Spread this over 2-3 meals.
This provides a healthy amount of the beneficial nutrients crab offers without exceeding mercury exposure limits.
Stick to the recommended 8-12 oz weekly serving of crab during your entire pregnancy for the safest intake. Avoid eating crab daily or multiple times a week.
Pay attention to portion sizes. Many restaurant crab dishes far exceed the recommended 4 ounce pregnant serving. Consider sharing dishes or taking leftovers home when dining out.
Types of Crab That Are Safe to Eat
These types of crab are safest for pregnancy based on their low mercury levels:
Atlantic Blue Crab
This is the most popular edible crab in the United States. It has very low mercury levels, especially when harvested from clean Atlantic waters. Blue crab is delicious steamed, baked, or incorporated into crab cakes.
Found along the Pacific coast, nutritious Dungeness crab is low in mercury. Its sweet, succulent meat is perfect for crab louie salads, cioppino stews, or dipping in melted butter.
Also called queen crab, snow crab from the Atlantic Ocean is very low in mercury. Its legs are often sold as clusters. Snow crab legs make an easy, mess-free meal.
Harvested off Florida’s coast, tasty stone crab claws are low mercury. They are perfect for appetizers, salads, or main dishes when cooked thoroughly.
Stick to these safer choices during pregnancy and avoid crab with higher mercury levels like golden king crab.
Crab Recipes for Pregnant Women
Here are some delicious, safe ways to eat crab during pregnancy:
Combine lump crab meat with breadcrumbs, egg, lemon juice, and spices. Pan fry crab cakes until golden brown.
Mix together crab chunks, diced celery, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Serve over greens.
Blend together crab meat, cream cheese, sour cream, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Old Bay seasoning. Bake until bubbly.
Prepare a base with onions, carrots, celery, and stock. Add lump crab meat, milk or cream, and seasonings. Simmer gently.
Steamed Crab Legs
Simply steam snow crab legs for 8-10 minutes. Serve with melted butter for dipping.
Crab Stir Fry
Stir fry crab meat with baby corn, snap peas, bell pepper, and noodles or rice in a teriyaki or oyster sauce.
When to Avoid Crab During Pregnancy
It’s best to avoid these higher risk crab products when pregnant:
- Raw crab: Increases chance of foodborne illness
- Imitation crab: May contain raw fish
- Refrigerated smoked crab: Higher risk of listeria
- Crab roe: Potentially high mercury levels
- Crab from questionable sources: More prone to contamination
Also avoid crab that is not freshly cooked, such as crab salad or seafood salad from a self-serve bar.
Use caution when eating out and check that your crab dish is thoroughly cooked. Avoid crab meat that is translucent or mushy in texture.
Is imitation crab safe during pregnancy?
Imitation crab is usually made from fish like pollock or whitefish. It should be avoided unless you can confirm it does not contain any raw seafood ingredients.
Can you eat soft shell crab when pregnant?
Yes, as long as soft shell crab is cooked thoroughly until opaque and flaky throughout. Avoid raw or undercooked soft shell crab.
What about canned crab?
Canned crab like lump crab meat is safe during pregnancy since it is pre-cooked. Rinse before using to reduce sodium content.
Is crab salad from the grocery store okay?
No, avoid pre-made seafood and crab salads sold in the refrigerated sections of stores due to higher risk of listeria bacteria.
Can you eat crab legs raw?
Raw or undercooked crab legs are unsafe during pregnancy due to the risk of parasites and bacterial infections. Always cook crab legs thoroughly.
Crab can be a healthy addition to your diet during pregnancy as long as you choose low mercury varieties like Atlantic blue crab. Limit intake to 8-12 oz per week and avoid raw or undercooked crab. Following the safe handling, cooking, and storage guidelines in this article can help pregnant women safely enjoy the great taste and nutrition of crab.