Can I Eat Anchovies When Pregnant?

During pregnancy, women have increased needs for certain nutrients like iron, calcium and docosahexaenoic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Anchovies are a great source of these and other nutrients. Unlike larger fish, they are low in mercury, a neurotoxin that pregnant women have to be particularly careful about. These tiny fish pack a powerful punch of important pregnancy nutrients. Including them in your diet is a tasty way to fulfill some of those prenatal needs, though you may need to keep an eye on your salt consumption.

Anchovies on a cutting board. (Image: al62/iStock/Getty Images)

Critical Calcium

The recommendation of calcium intake for pregnant women is 1,000 milligrams per day. This nutrient is critical for various muscular, vascular and nerve functions in the body and is needed for the development of a baby's bones and teeth. While dairy foods are commonly associated with calcium, other foods including vegetables like kale and broccoli and fish like salmon, sardines and anchovies provide this important mineral. With nearly 200 milligrams of calcium, a 3-ounce serving of anchovies provides the same amount as 1/2 cup of yogurt.

Elusive Vitamin D

Although vitamin D needs do not increase during pregnancy or lactation, this fat-soluble nutrient helps with the absorption of calcium and is important for bone health. It also reduces inflammation. Vitamin D is limited in the food supply, and anchovies are one of the few foods that naturally contain the vitamin. A 3-ounce serving contains about 60 international units of vitamin D, or 10 percent of the daily value.

Essential Omegas

Anchovies and other fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel and herring, are an important source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA. Omega-3s are important for brain development in babies, and pregnant women are advised to get 200 milligrams of DHA. Anchovies provide 1.7 grams of total omega-3s per 3-ounce serving, containing both DHA and EPA. Unlike larger fish, anchovies are a low-mercury source of this essential fatty acid.

Iron Boost

Pregnant women are advised to get 27 milligrams of iron per day, 50 percent more than women who are not pregnant. During pregnancy, blood volume increases significantly and extra iron is needed for red blood cell production. Anchovies are a good source of iron. Additionally, anchovies contain heme iron, the form of iron found in fish and meat that is more easily absorbed than nonheme iron, the type found in plant and fortified foods.

Watch the Salt

Anchovies are most readily available in jars or cans, which tend to be high in sodium. According to the Institute of Medicine, 1,500 milligrams of sodium is an adequate intake for pregnant women as well as the general adult population. Fresh anchovies are low in salt, with only 88 milligrams sodium per 3-ounce serving, but the same amount of prepared anchovies can have over 3,000 milligrams. Canned anchovies are actually higher in most nutrients than their fresh counterparts, so look for lower sodium options.

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