Fish Sauce in Pregnancy: Is It Safe? Thai, Vietnamese and More

Fish sauce can make any dish more palatable. However, the fact it contains “fish” often makes pregnant women wonder – is it safe during pregnancy?

Fish sauce is a fermented sauce that is safe for pregnant moms to consume. It is made mainly from fish and salt. It has considerable amounts of EPA and DHA, and both have benefits during pregnancy.

However, fish sauce is also high in sodium, so you should be careful not to use too much of it. 

How much fish sauce can you consume during pregnancy, what types are available on the market, and does it smell and taste fishy? Learn the answers to these questions and more below!

Is Fish Sauce Safe During Pregnancy?

Fish sauce is safe for pregnant women. Its beneficial microorganisms, high salinity, and lack of mercury make it safe during pregnancy. However, its high salt content can cause some issues if consumed in excess. 

a bottle of fish sauce

The first recorded fish sauce was called Garum and was produced in Rome. Today, fish sauce is more popular in Asia, particularly in Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines (source: NIH). 

The label won’t always say “fish sauce”, so it’s good to know how to spot it. Fish sauce is known in different countries as:

Asia:

  • Uwoshoyu, Shottsuru, Shousuru, Ikanago, Konago — Japan
  • Yeesu — China
  • Nam-pla — Thailand
  • Nuöc Mâm — Vietnam and Cambodia
  • Teuk trei —Cambodia
  • Patis — Philippines
  • Aekjeot — Korea
  • Ngapi, Ngan bya yay — Myanmar
  • Kecap ikan, Ketjap-ikan, Bakasang — Indonesia
  • Budu — Malaysia

Europe:

  • Pissala — France
  • Garos — Greece
  • Colombo-cure — Pakistan and India

(source: ScienceDirect).

All these types of fish sauce utilize different ingredients, fermentation duration, heat treatment, filtration, extraction, and overall processing methods. But rest assured, they are all safe to consume during pregnancy. 

These are some brands that are usually available, and that are pregnancy safe:

Does Fish Sauce Contain Fish or Mercury?

Fish sauce is made through fermentation. It contains salt at a ratio of 1:3, with fish (sometimes shellfish) being one part and salt being three parts. The duration of fermentation ranges from 3–24 months. 

During fermentation, the enzymes present in the fish cause it to disintegrate. Because of the high concentration of salt (>25%), bacteria cannot survive. This is what makes it safe when pregnant.

After fermentation, filtration or decantation is used to obtain the resulting product, which is a clear liquid. This is the fish sauce we all know, and this is also why it has high concentrations of salt (source: ScienceDirect).

Moreover, the high pH, presence of ammonia, and fast growth of good microorganisms destroy bacteria that can cause spoilage (source: NIH). 

If you’re worried about the mercury content of fish sauce, don’t be. It only contains trace amounts. This means the mercury levels are negligible at EWI = 0.055 µg.kg−1 b.w, and therefore should not be cause for concern (source: Foods).

However, fish sauce does have high salt content. One tablespoon contains 1,410 mg of sodium (source: USDA). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting your daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg (source: DGA).

According to a study, high salt diets can affect the baby’s urine excretion as well as its renal functions (source: NIH). So it’s best to consume a moderate amount, especially during pregnancy.

a bowl of fish sauce with chili

Is Fish Sauce Good or Bad When Pregnant?

Not only is fish sauce safe during pregnancy when consumed in moderation, but it also has some benefits for pregnant women.

Many fish sauces nowadays are fortified. But in its natural state, fish sauce contains significant levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), antioxidants, and essential nutrients.

EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids, which regulate the heartbeat and prevent it from falling into an irregular and unstable rhythm (source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). 

EPA and DHA are also antioxidants, which help repair any damage to your DNA and also support overall cell health (source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). 

Keep in mind, fish sauce is not the same as fish oil! For more information on fish oil during pregnancy, read this article here.

Though fish sauce is common in Asian cuisine, it can be used in a variety of dishes. It doesn’t taste fishy and will enhance any recipe. Just remember to use it in moderation and not exceed the daily recommendation. We hope this helps!

This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.

Gina Waggott

Gina is the owner and founder of Pregnancy Food Checker. She holds a Certification on Nutrition and Lifestyle during Pregnancy from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and a Diploma in Human Nutrition.

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