There was a time when everyone who was anyone was eating sushi. A sushi dinner spoke of culture, class, and just the right amount of daring. It was cutting edge and sophisticated, unless of course you were picking it up in the deli section of your neighborhood grocery store. But for foodies today, sushi is no longer creative or adventurous. Enter poke bowls. Millennials everywhere are going crazy for the new novelty, but is it safe for expectant mamas? Can you eat poke bowls while pregnant?
Poke bowls are essentially all of the taste of sushi with a twist in presentation: The rice, sauce, various vegetables, and raw fish are served in a bowl, salad-style, rather than in a roll. According to People, the word poke is Hawaiian for “to slice or cut” in reference to the raw fish.
As with sushi, the controversial element in poke bowls is obviously not the rice or the vegetables; rather, traditional medical advice in the Western world has cautioned gestating women against consuming raw fish. Yet critics point out that women of Eastern cultures do not typically give up their staple diet during pregnancy. So what is an American mother supposed to do?
One health and wellness expert, Caleb Backe of Maple Holistics, confirms that indeed the research data goes back and forth on the issue of fish consumption — both cooked or uncooked — during pregnancy. "The initial concern had to do with getting too much mercury, which was linked to lessened development and brain damage in the baby," Backe explains in an interview with Romper. "Eating fish and sushi while pregnant is usually fine, though the type of fish also matters. As long as the mercury levels are safe, and there are no allergies or severe aversions, there should be no health risks for the woman or the fetus."
Unfortunately, most women don't have access to any way to actually test the mercury levels in the fish we're so desperately hoping to eat during pregnancy. Are there safety precautions we can know about and take? Backe says yes, but it might mean leaving your house. "Research has shown that a woman has a greater chance of getting sick at home than she does at a restaurant. The regulations restaurants are working under are pretty strict."
This is good news for women like me who would rather eat out than cook anyway, but what about those for whom the preparation of their food is a big part of its pleasure? Is there any hope for poke bowls in the future of adventurous at-home cooks?
It depends on your willingness to take a risk. Backe states that mercury-related conditions are not very prevalent in the United States, so if you live here, your chance of getting sick is statistically pretty low. Proper handling of the fish in your home kitchen preparations also play a big part in the safety of consuming it, so be sure to educate yourself on the protocol beforehand.
When it comes down to it, every pregnant woman must decide for herself which risks she is and is not willing to take when it comes to food consumption. You certainly shouldn't ignore safety warnings completely, but if you spend nine months obsessing over every possible food restriction, you're going to feel frustrated and deprived and have a hard time really enjoying the marvel of growing new life.
If you're jonesing for a poke bowl, moderation is probably key. Don't make consuming raw fish a daily habit, but letting yourself indulge in one at a restaurant with high safety standards is considered fine by some experts. Just talk to your doctor beforehand.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.