Do Pregnant Japanese Women Eschew Sushi?

Just about any OB/GYN in the US will tell pregnant women to stay off sushi until their pregnancy is over - something about mercury in fish or something (I think).

Does the same hold true in Japan?

“Indeed, in Japan, eating raw fish is considered part of good neonatal nutrition. The Japanese government is fanatical about public health, and Japanese medical scientists are among the best in the world. You can be sure that, were there documented complications resulting from pregnant women eating sushi in Japan, there would be swift government intervention.”

IIRC, the concern about raw fish is parasites, not mercury. I’m a vegetarian, so I didn’t eat fish, cooked or raw when I was pregnant, but my doctor gave me that same list she gives all her patients with foods and things to avoid.

Japanese women, who grow up eating raw fish, may be immune to parasites, or may have been infected with them already, and the infection may no longer be dangerous to a fetus. It may be like the parasite that can be caught from cat feces (toxoplasmosis)-- it is dangerous only if you become newly infected while pregnant. If you were infected years ago, it isn’t a problem. I’ve had cats almost literally all my life (since I was two, and my extended family had them when I was a newborn), so the chances that I would become newly infected from our indoor cats’ litter while I was pregnant was wildly slim. My doctor told my husband to change the litter for the next nine months anyway.

Very few American children grow up eating raw fish sushi-- it’s mostly something Americans try for the first time as adults, and eat only occasionally, so the risk of a new parasitic infection from sushi is quite real for American women, and it’s better to avoid sushi.

But discuss it with your doctor. If you grew up eating sushi a couple of times a week, in America, then you may be safe eating it while pregnant.

According to my wife’s doctor, the concern is both mercury and food-borne illness, but mostly the latter.

You don’t become immune to a lot of the stuff that sushi (rarely) is infected with.

But the different preparation and supply chain in the US probably has big consequences.

I did a quick Google search in Japanese for pregnancy and sushi, and came up with a lot of pages advising pregnant women not to eat sushi. This page starts out saying “we often hear that pregnant women shouldn’t eat sushi, but why is that?” and lists several reasons: food poisoning risk, nutrition (too much carbs), then mercury content of certain fish.

… Eschew Sushi …

Try saying that three times fast!

When I was in Japan I was told that the only raw fish they eat are ocean fish because fresh-water fish are too likely to have parasites. I cannot testify to the truth of this, only that Japanese believe it.

By the way, I’ve been to Japan a couple of times, and sushi is not the only raw fish, it’s just a certain style of how it’s served. The typical meal you get in a restaurant has lots of raw fish plus sides like soup and rice, and it’s not sushi.

Plus sushi itself does not mean raw fish, either, but rather to the vinegared rice and how it is prepared and served. One of the classic sushi dishes to test a chef’s skill is tamago sushi, which is basically an omelet served on sushi rice and held together by a ribbon of seaweed.

I can’t speak for all Japanese women, but my wife avoided tuna (raw and cooked) while she was pregnant because of mercury levels. She didn’t go out of her way to avoid other fish, though.

All of my wife’s pregnancies were in Japan and indeed she was advised to avoid sushi.

Sushi is the rice. The raw fish is called sashimi.

Nitpick. Neonatal means after the birth has occurred.

Ages ago a friend of mine avoided all sushi/sashimi along with soft cheese for her entire pregnancy. It was my job to turn up with a box of sushi for her the day after the birth.

In the spirit of nitpicking…

“Sushi” may have meant something like sour rice several centuries ago. But
“sushi” has referred to a dish made using vinegared rice for something like four centuries now. The rice is now called sushi rice or rice for sushi. So I think it might be time to abandon this bit of pedantry.

To me it’s not unlike how “pasta” colloquially refers to the dishes themselves, not to the noodles (or whatever shape) specifically. You say “let’s have pasta,” you assume you’re getting it with a sauce. You say, “let’s have sushi,” you assume you’re getting it with fish (raw or cooked), or just veggies, or an egg, or whatever. No one says “let’s have sushi” expecting just to eat vinagered rice.

No, sushi is a dish made with vinegar rice, usually but not necessarily with seafood. The term never refers to the rice itself. Vinegar rice is sumeshi or shari.

And sashimi is a dish made with raw fish. It’s not a component or ingredient of sushi.

Ideally, they eschew each bite 30 times.

Absolutely. The s-sh-ch so close.

Reminds me of Phillip Roth’s mischievously title novel Sabbath’s Theater.