Is it Safe to Eat Clams While Pregnant

Is it Safe to Eat Clams While Pregnant?

Eating well is one of the best things you can do when pregnant.

Good nutrition can help you manage the increased demands on your body as your pregnancy proceeds.

You don’t need to follow a specific diet; the idea is to balance maintaining a healthy weight and taking enough nutrients to promote your baby’s growth.

However, you should also be cautious and avoid food that can harm both of you. Seafood is considered to be a highly nutritious food source.

Pregnant women are advised to eat two to three servings of seafood with low levels of mercury, which amounts to 8-12 ounces (or 340 grams) per week.

Out of the various types of seafood available, clams are one of the types that contain relatively low levels of mercury.

So, is it safe to eat clams while pregnant? If properly cooked, pregnant women can consume clams safely.

Clams: The Superfood You’ve Been Overlooking

Clams are part of the mollusk family, which are invertebrate animals. They are also called shellfish, having a bivalve shell.

In general, shellfish are a good source of easily digestible proteins, essential amino acids, bioactive peptides, omega-3, 6 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and other vitamins and minerals such as copper, zinc, phosphate, sodium, potassium, selenium, and iodine.

These nutrients provide various health benefits for those who consume shellfish.

During pregnancy, omega-3 fatty acids may help the baby’s brain, and eyes develop, and reduce the chance of early birth in high-risk women.

Clams are also rich in iron, which the body uses to produce additional blood, which is necessary for delivering oxygen to the growing fetus during pregnancy.

B12 vitamin is crucial for the development of the fetal brain, the production of red blood cells, and the prevention of congenital disabilities.

Mercury Level in Clams

Although shellfish are rich in nutrients, they can pose potential risks to health due to their ability to absorb heavy metals like mercury or cadmium from their surroundings.

High mercury levels in a pregnant woman’s bloodstream can harm the fetus’s developing brain and nervous system.

The positive aspect is that clams contain low levels of mercury, with an average concentration of 0.009 parts per million (PPM).

In comparison, certain fish like Bigeye tuna and King mackerel, which are recommended to be avoided during pregnancy due to their high levels of mercury, contain 0.689 and 0.73 PPM of mercury, respectively.

Risks of Eating Raw/Undercooked Clams

Eating raw or undercooked oysters or clams can make some people seriously ill because of Vibrio vulnificus, which is not caused by pollution and can be present in approved harvesting waters.

Hot sauce and alcohol also do not eliminate the bacteria. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, weakness, skin rashes and blisters, chills, and high fever.

Toxoplasmosis is another food-borne illness caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii.

It can be contracted by consuming undercooked shellfish (for example, oysters, clams, or mussels), meat (especially pork, lamb, and venison), contact with infected cat feces, or by mother-to-fetus route by placental transfer during pregnancy.

It can be asymptomatic or include flu-like symptoms, and severe cases can damage the brain, eyes, and other organs, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems.

Clams also have the potential to carry viruses. According to research, norovirus and hepatitis A virus were found in raw clams․

Safe Handling of Clams During Pregnancy

  •  When purchasing clams, choose ones with closed shells or those that close. Any clams that do not close or have cracked or broken shells should be discarded.
  • Fresh clams should have a fresh, ocean-like smell, and not have a fishy or foul odor. Canned or frozen packaged mussels can be a suitable alternative․
  • When handling raw clams in the kitchen, wear gloves and clean and disinfect any utensils or surfaces that come into contact with the clam to avoid the risk of foodborne illness.

Safe Cooking of Clams in the Shell

  •  Avoid interruptions during the cooking process to ensure their shells’ safe and proper cooking. Such disruption may create conditions that promote bacterial growth.
  • When boiling live clams, use small pots and do not overcrowd them, as the ones in the middle may not cook thoroughly.
  • After the shells open, continue boiling them for 3 to 5 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open during cooking, as closed shells indicate inadequate heating.
  • For steaming live clams, it is best to use a steamer already steaming and steam them for 4 to 9 minutes.

Safe Cooking of Shucked Clams

  •  To ensure that shucked clams are fully cooked, boil or simmer until their edges curl for a minimum of 3 minutes.
  • Another option is to fry them in oil for at least 3 minutes at a temperature of 375°F.
  • Broiling them 3 inches away from heat for 3 minutes or baking them for 10 minutes at 450°F are also viable cooking methods.

When shucked clams are fully cooked, they become plump and opaque in appearance.

Eating Clam Chowder While Pregnant: Recipe

Clam chowder is a tasty soup consisting of clams, vegetables, meat, and onions. It’s a popular choice for pregnant women and is generally safe to consume during pregnancy.

However, you should avoid consuming large amounts of clam chowder and always practice moderation.

Secondly, if you want to add milk or cream to your soup, use pasteurized products to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

 Here is the list of ingredients for the clam chowder recipe:

  •  Clams (1 1/2 cups chopped) and their juice
  • Salt pork (3 slices) or thickly sliced bacon (cut into small shreds)
  • Onion (1 medium, finely chopped)
  • Potatoes (2 medium, thinly sliced)
  •  Water (2 cups, salted)
  •  Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  •   Light cream (3 cups)
  •  Butter
  •  Thyme
  • Chopped parsley

To prepare the chowder, drain the clams and set the juice aside. Cook the pork or bacon until crispy and transfer it to a paper towel.

Brown the onions in the remaining fat from the pork or bacon.

Boil the potatoes in salted water until they are tender, then add the cooked pork or bacon, onions, salt, pepper, and clam juice to the pot and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the cream, boil, adjust the seasoning, and add the clams. Heat through, and serve with a dollop of butter, a pinch of thyme, and chopped parsley.

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Final Thoughts on Is it Safe to Eat Clams While Pregnant?

In summary, like other bivalves, clams are a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and potassium, while containing low amounts of fat and calories.

You should avoid raw or undercooked shellfish to stay safe from parasites and bacteria.

Enjoy properly cooked clams and remember that everything is good in moderation. 

Nazel Gevorgyan

Nazeli Gevorgyan studied at Yerevan State Medical University and is an Obstetrics/Gynecology resident

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