Is It Safe To Eat Seaweed During Pregnancy?

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In recent years, seaweed has emerged as a superfood and has gained importance as a dietary supplement. But, you may not be sure of the safety of seaweed during pregnancy. Pregnant women should exercise caution while consuming it because it can have adverse effects on the growth of the fetus if taken in excess.

Although the right amount of seaweed is believed to be beneficial during pregnancy, you should consult a doctor before deciding to consume it.

Read on the types of seaweed, their health benefits during pregnancy, and the possible risks associated.

Types Of Seaweed

Edible seaweed is of three types – the green, brown and red varieties. Green seaweed, also known as ulva or sea lettuce is usually used in soups and salads. Brown seaweed again includes many varieties like wakame, kelp, arame and hijiki. Red type includes the variety nori that is used in making sushi and dulse. Dulse is a chewy reddish brown form used to make stews and soups.

Health Benefits Of Seaweed During Pregnancy

Seaweed is a member of the algae family, and is a part of Asian cuisine. Just 2 tablespoons worth of serving seaweed could actually give your body a good dose of many important vitamins and minerals.

  • It has been found that seaweed is a rich source of antioxidants as well, which can protect the body against a wide range of illnesses, particularly arthritis, celiac disease, obesity, asthma and even depression.
  • A few studies have also found that seaweed could be potentially useful in promoting the normal development of the sexual organs, thereby reducing the risk of breast cancer.
  • Seaweed has also been found effective in reducing the severity of PMS symptoms, and is thought to improve female fertility as well. (1)
  • Iron is also highly available in seaweed because of major vitamin C content in sea vegetables. The Vitamin C helps to absorb and use more iron in the body.
  • Seaweed is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which helps in fetal brain development.
  • The high fiber content helps treat constipation and also improves digestion ability.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Seaweed?

With its tempting health benefits, seaweed may sound like an ideal food to be consumed during pregnancy, considering the amount of nutrients that it has to offer. However, it is best to limit its consumption during pregnancy, and have a talk with your healthcare provider regarding the ideal dosage to be followed for the same.

According to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand, pregnant women must limit their consumption of seaweed to not more than one serving per week. This is because seaweed tends to contain unnaturally high amounts of iodine, which could be potentially dangerous if consumed during pregnancy.

Iodine is an important nutrient that the body needs to function properly, but if taken in excess, it could have a negative impact on the functioning of the thyroid gland. It has been found that pregnant women who consumed excess of seaweed during pregnancy had babies that were ill.

Also, there is a possibility of contamination due to the presence of heavy metals. So be cautious! Take your nutritionist’s or your physician’s advice.

It is therefore best to stick to moderate consumption of seaweed in pregnancy, so that the excess iodine can be rapidly excreted from the body. (2) Seaweed, when consumed in the right amount, could actually be helpful during pregnancy. Thanks to its high iodine content, seaweed could prove to be extremely helpful in preventing neurological impairment in the developing baby, and could positively affect the baby’s reading ability later in life. (3)

Infact, a study conducted on Japanese women has revealed that the consumption of seaweed when pregnant could reduce the risk of depressive symptoms in women to a considerable extent. (4)

Possible Health Risks Associated With Seaweed

Seaweed is a small sized package of many nutrients, some of them in quantities that exceed our daily recommended intake. This is why, consumption of seaweed on a regular basis could prove to be harmful, particularly for pregnant women.

According to Medline Plus, seaweed, owing to its high concentration of iodine, could be harmful for pregnant women. (5)

Seaweed is often used as a supplement and is believed to improve breast milk supply in lactating women, but daily intake could cause abnormally high levels of iodine in the body, which may in turn, affect the thyroid gland of both the mother and the baby, possibly even causing hypothyroidism in newborn babies. (6)

What’s more, a study has also pointed out to a strong association between the consumption of seaweed and a risk of thyroid cancer in women. (7)

A Delicious Seaweed Recipe

It is best to stick to minimal consumption of seaweed during pregnancy, if at all. Also, rather than taking supplements and buying risk to your health, you can get minimal necessary iodine from seaweed consumption.

Here is a great tasting seaweed salad recipe from epicurious that offers you a healthy iodine boost (7). Give it a try.

Ingredients to use:

  • Dried wakame seaweed – 3/4 ounce
  • Rice vinegar – 3 tbsp
  • Soy sauce – 3 tbsp
  • Asian sesame oil – 2 tbsp
  • Sugar – 1 tsp
  • Finely grated fresh ginger – 1 tsp
  • Minced garlic – 1/2 tsp
  • Tart apple – 1 small one (Granny Smith variety)
  • Thinly sliced scallion – 2
  • Chopped fresh cilantro – 2 tbsp
  • Toasted sesame seeds – 1 tbsp

Preparation Method:

  1. Soak dried seaweed in warm water for 5 minutes.
  2. Drain and squeeze out excess water and cut the seaweed into 1/2 wide inch strips.
  3. Stir all the ingredients mentioned above from vinegar to minced apple in a separate bowl.
  4. Dice tart apple into 1/4 inch and add to the above dressing along with the seaweed, scallions and cilantro.
  5. Toss the salad and top it with some sesame seeds.

Seaweed is a good source of antioxidants, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. You may consider eating seaweed during pregnancy due to its nutritional value and beneficial effects on digestion and fetal brain development. However, due to its high iodine content and potential adverse effects on the thyroid gland, moderation is advisable to consume seaweed. But, one cannot rule out heavy metal contamination in seaweed, so it is best to include it in your pregnancy diet after consulting a doctor or a nutritionist.

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Shivani Sikri

(Public health and Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics)
Shivani Sikri is the chief nutritionist and co-founder of Nutri4Verve. After completing her Masters, Shivani Sikri did a postgraduate in nutrition and health education, a postgraduate diploma in public health and nutrition (PGDPHN), and a postgraduate diploma in nutrition and clinical dietetics. She has also completed her certification in Nutrigenomics from the US.   Shivani recommends a well-balanced, holistic lifestyle... more

Ria Saha

Ria is a techie-turned-writer and writes articles on health, with special emphasis on nutrition. She did her B.Tech from West Bengal University of Technology and was previously associated with IBM as SAP ABAP technical consultant. She moved into freelance content writing in 2013 and worked for various websites including MomJunction, Brainpulse Technologies, and Emarketz India.

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