Fish, food rules & pregnancy

Last week, I had the pleasure of hanging out at this super innovative fish farm and research facility for a half-day. Well, it would have been more of a pleasure had it not smelled like fish… and had I not been four months pregnant. But I’ve gotten really good at not breathing through my nose these days, so I persevered.

The researchers there quickly reminded me — as many do — that pregnant women CAN indeed eat fish. In fact, they should. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon are power boosters for growing a baby. So why then do so many pregnant women avoid fish all together?

Because too much of the wrong fish can carry too-high levels of mercury, PCBs or other contaminants that can be harmful to the baby. I’m thrilled to be learning about fish farms lately and some of the innovations that could eventually not only ensure more healthful fish for more people but also that the fish is free of these kinds of contaminants.

Until then, please don’t freak out about fish and swear them off entirely (although, if it’s gross in your first trimester, like it was for me, by all means). There are tons of resources out there about what’s OK to eat and how much of it. Here’s a great primer on the basics, and if you’re into calculating what you’re actually eating, check out this mercury calculator (I sometimes fail this one). If you want to consider more than just mercury — like how sustainable the fish is and whether it’s good for both you and the environment when you eat it, check out this more thorough report and download this guide.

Phew! Now you’re equipped. Oh, and if you want to eat a whole fish while dining out in DC — one that’s been sustainably farmed and is free of all these preggo-no-nos, order the whole sea bass at Pearl Dive. The fish farm was started by an ER doctor who wants pregnant people to eat more fish.


I couldn’t resist this gorgeous toothfish at 1789 in Georgetown a couple weeks ago. Friends were in town. I broke a lot of rules.

If I haven’t confessed this to you yet, I have a really hard time with these pregnancy food rules. I tend to think of them as the fruit of us living in a litigious society of fear (can you tell I’ve been watching Suits?). When I first got the yay-you’re-pregnant blood test results from the doctor, you know what she thought was the most important thing to say to me in the next few breaths?

“Don’t eat deli meat, unpasteurized cheese or runny yolks on your eggs.”

What? First of all, how about “Don’t smoke, do drugs or take up a major drinking habit.” No, I’m sure lurking listeria is far more of a concern than these. And, yes, I totally did question her on the runny yolks — which, at the time, I was eating every day. I followed orders for a couple days, then I did my own research, remembered that I buy my eggs directly from the farmer and decided to eat my yolks the way I like them.

It’s not that I’m usually a rule breaker, but these pregnancy food rules really rub me the wrong way. It’s like they forget to express to patients the basics of good nutrition and mindfully sourcing what you put in your mouth and focus instead on this long list of don’ts. I have half a mind to tell them that, gee, I was so scared of accidentally eating a soft cheese or runny yolk that I gave up my natural foods diet and started eating only at McDonald’s, where I can at least be assured I won’t eat something undercooked.

Gosh, I didn’t realize how passionate I was about this. I’m just fascinated by food habits and the way that a few fear-fueled comments here and there can utterly alter what women eat, especially if they’re “with child.” The basics still apply, my friends! And I have to keep reminding myself of that (even when pregnancy books give you SUCH mixed messages: “Eat whatever sounds good.” “Except these ten thousand things… but over-processed crackers and toast and carbs galore are totally fine.”)

That doesn’t mean that sometimes, in recent weeks, I haven’t chosen to forget or bend those basic rules of nutrition. I mean, YOPO, right? OK maybe you’re pregnant more than once, but only for the first time once. 🙂

I’ve had my pasta cave moments… that started with one bowl and ended with three.

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My many ooey-gooey grilled cheese moments. Yes, I discovered that grilling cheese in the waffle maker is a far superior way of life that mimics the grilled-cheese maker my grandmother had growing up. And at least I added a salad…

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My oh-my-gosh-Ethiopians-make-awesome-tiramisu (and sell it just blocks from our new house) moments…

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And my virgin bloody mary moments (a.k.a. I heart salt moments).

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This one was helping me get through a Saturday morning decorating session in the new house.

That’s not to mention the fact that, since becoming pregnant, I have yet to make it out of Trader Joe’s without breaking into a bag of something in my cart before the checkout line. Then I feel the need to justify my low-blood-sugar moment to the poor checkout man, who really doesn’t want to hear my confessions.

So, now that I’ve made these confessions to you, too, I guess I’m fully forgiven.

– W

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