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Food to avoid during pregnancy

Japan With Kids - Forums: Health Topics: Pregnancy/Birth/Childrearing: Food to avoid during pregnancy
By Lindagondo on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - 12:17 pm:

When I was pregnant with my first child in Australia I was told to avoid sushi, deli meats, soft cheeses etc etc, to avoid contracting listeria or toxoplasmosis, however my obstetrician here said that there was no reason to avoid these in Japan. Is the quality control of food and food preparation really so much better over here? Or do Japanese women have some unique kind of immunity? Virtually all of my Japanese friends have continued to eat sushi throughout their pregnancies....

By Steveb on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - 12:30 pm:


We were told the same with the explanation that the huge demand for raw fish in Japan as well as the long history of eating sushi have resulted in a well established distribution system and safe handling practices.

That said, we have also been told that winter is safer than summer because the cold weather keeps the fish frozen, while summer heat can creep in and spoil the meat.

Also, our midwife recommends not eating sushi based on the outside chance of bacteria and also because of the likelihood of chemicals in the fish itself.


By Lenemaia on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - 12:40 pm:

In Scandinavia, pregnant women are strongly adviced against eating any kind of fish, while in Japan you can't eat too much during your pregnancy... - I don't believe that the scandinavian oceans are more polluted (and therefore the fish are) than the waters surrounding Japan?!?

I was pregnant in Japan and stayed away from everything raw (sushi etc) and unpasturised cheeses and I followed the advice from back home saying don't eat fish. Canned or fresh.
Also, I stayed away from tofu. Tofu contains something (sorry, I forgot the name) that foreign women shouldn't eat during a pregnancy. But the japanese are all used to it so for them, it's okay. Maybe they do actually have some unique kind of immunity... who knows!?

Good luck.

By Natalie_l on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - 1:32 pm:

My advice (as a scientist with a background in parasitology) is to avoid sushi unless it is prepared fresh (e.g. sushi bar OK, sushi from supermarket not OK). Listeria is a bacteria that is found in the environment, usually soil. It is killed by heating things to at least steaming hot, and unlike most bacteria, it can multiply (grow) even when in the fridge. That is why you are not supposed to eat raw, pre-prepared foods like salads and sushi but if you prepare these yourself, it is OK.

Personally, I avoided these foods in Japan and Australia (except a couple of times when I was tempted!). However I stopped altogether when I found out the possible effects:
"In pregnant women, however, even though the most usual symptom is a mild influenza-like illness without meningitis, infection of the fetus is extremely common and can lead to abortion, stillbirth, or delivery of an acutely ill infant".

Considering these things, I would only eat sushi if absolutely desperate for it, and only then from a very reputable place.

Hope this helps!

By Yuko_k on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - 4:55 pm:

There was a similar question on another website and I had just done some amateur research on it. Here's my answer.

Health care rules change from time to time as new scientific facts are discovered and as the natural environment changes. I just updated myself by doing a very quick search on several websites.

So far, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare claims as of June, 2003, that in order to avoid mercury likely to be contained in seafood, those who are pregnant or assume to be pregnant should try to avoid eating swordfish (mekajiki), alfonsino (kinmedai), shark (sa-me), certain whales (kujira) and dolphins (iruka). Among them swordfish and alfonsino are commonly served in Japanese restaurants. These 2 types of fish should be eaten only up to 2 servings a week (60-80 grams per serving).

The Ministry claims however, that other than these, there is no data implying that other fish carry ill effects as far as mercury is concerned. The Ministry also claims that fish are generally good for the human's health and that this statement should not encourage any decrease on fish consumption. Sorry that I could only find links mentioning this in Japanese language.

Other than this, a suppliment seller encourages pregnant women to consume fish, since the DHA contained is supposed to help build a healthy brain for the infant.

Kikkoman, a top selling soy sauce company, claims on their website that Vitamin B6 contained on foods like blue-skinned fish is supposed to reduce morning sickness.

On the other hand, quite often people are encouraged not to eat raw food in order to avoid food poisoning. Especially during summer, dangerous bacteria such as O-157 increases, and people requiring extra care such as elderlies, infants and the pregnant should avoid not only raw poultry and fish but also raw vegetables.

Communicating on the web, I have the impression that specialists in the U.S. and perhaps other countries worry about the mercury and other chemicals contained in a lot of seafood, while in Japan, specialists believe that the postive effects you get from seafood, such as nutrition, outdo the ill effects.

Of course you have to keep in mind that economy will collapse if the government tells you to stop eating fish in Japan, but as mentioned, people in Japan have been eating fish all their lives and they are still alive and kicking.

But I do think it would be slightly different if a person who wasn't brought up in a fish-consuming environment suddenly starts eating a lot of fish. Also, the chemicals contained in the sea can be slightly different depending on what part of our planet you're looking at.

Someone mentioned avoiding tofu. Tofu and other soy bean products are actually considered as good protein with very low fat, which makes it ideal for the pregnant. However, soy, along with chicken eggs and cow milk has been the top 3 allergens for a long time, so a lot of specialists believe that if either of the parents have some kind or allergy, the pregnant mother-to-be should avoid eating too much of these top 3 allergens.

In any case, most people in Japan believe that what counts is a _balanced_ meal. Eating bits of everything, and avoiding lots of one thing, is what makes a healthy body, especially for a pregnant person and her baby.

Consult your doctor and listen to a second opinion if necessary. If you are in Japan, you can obtain a Mother and Child Handbook in your language at your local health center (hokenjo). You can also ask for nutrition advise at the hokenjo and you get to attend "parents' classes" where you can share your thoughts with other parents-to-be with the assistance of public interpreters.

Take care!

By Lindagondo on Wednesday, January 16, 2008 - 9:34 am:

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful answers.

The reason told by my doctor that it was OK to eat sushi etc was that `If listeria was very prevalent in Japan we would be seeing more listeria cases in the general population, yet it is still rare in Japan.` I was also told that `in contrast to other countries deli meats and uncooked meat are usually not a transmitter of toxoplasmosis, and most cases of toxoplasmosis are contracted by by contact with cat waste.`

I`m guess quality control is better, however I still don`t think it eliminates all risk and for my part I am going to avoid anything uncooked, unless it`s a salad or something similar which I`ve prepared myself.

On the other hand, a girlfriend of mine in Austrlaia was told in her childbirth preparation class to avoid uncooked fish and meat, however the Japanese girl who was in the class was told that didn`t have to worry!! At the time I thought that sounded a bit odd, however having lived here and having Japanese friends that eat sushi two or three times a week (even from the supermarket) there may be some truth in it. Perhaps from a lifetime of eating raw fish they have built up some antibodies to listeria and toxoplasmosis??? If this is true, it means then that the quality control isn`t as good as everyone says and basically most Japanese have been infected and they have some kind of resistance??? I wonder if anyone else has heard something similar? Perhaps childbirth educator in Australia was mistaken?.....

And yes, avoiding the larger fish and sticking to the small fry is always a good idea, pregnant or not, and particulary when giving fish to children.

Thanks again for your help.

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