What are the dangers of eating mussels steamed in beer?
December 11, 2007 2:43 PM   Subscribe

If I eat mussels steamed in beer am I putting my unborn baby at risk of birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome?

I am 7 weeks pregnant. Googling seems to assure me that mussels are safe, but I am unsure if the amount of alcohol involved in the preparation poses a risk, or if it gets cooked off, isn't really absorbed, or might be negligible if I avoid eating the broth. I'll play it safe, of course, and won't eat them at all if there isn't a relatively concrete answer. They're steamed in Wittekerke (5% alcohol) and are absolutely my favorite thing in the world, and possibly the only thing that appeals to me right now. Any thoughts?
posted by natness to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think they used to actually recommend a little beer for pregnant women in my grandmother's day, and her kids were fine; as a non-doctor but former pregnant woman, I do not think you should worry about this. Someone else can tell you whether mussels are okay, but I bet they are too. My doctor even said a small glass of wine on special occasions was fine.
posted by theredpen at 2:47 PM on December 11, 2007

The amount of alcohol in the mussels themselves is going to be tiny. I wouldn't worry too much about a little broth either.
posted by Good Brain at 2:48 PM on December 11, 2007

You could drink the whole beer and you and your child would be fine. Congratulations by the way!
posted by dendrite at 2:49 PM on December 11, 2007

It doesn't get cooked off entirely. I'm looking for the cited article behind some paywalls, unfortunately it doesn't seem to be available.
posted by stereo at 2:55 PM on December 11, 2007

also, congrats! ask your doctor if you're really concerned, but i imagine you will be fine if you don't make a habit out of it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:56 PM on December 11, 2007

Alcohol evaporates at room temperature. I would imagine you'd have more to fear from bad seafood than the miniscule amount of alcohol that might reach your bloodstream.
posted by lekvar at 2:57 PM on December 11, 2007

Best answer: Oh, good heavens. Eat away and drink some beer if it so pleases you...

"The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recently conducted a large study including 400,000 American women, all of whom had consumed alcohol during pregnancy. Not a single case of fetal alcohol syndrome occurred and no adverse effects on children were found when consumption was under 8.5 drinks per week. 3

A recent review of research studies found that fetal alcohol syndrome only occurs among alcoholics. The evidence is clear that there is no apparent risk to a child when the pregnant woman consumes no more than one drink per day..." (link)

"Abstaining for foetal health: The fiction that even light drinking is dangerous

There is a strong ideological and political movement in the USA to convince pregnant women not to drink any alcohol. An examination of the research literature on the results of drinking during pregnancy does not provide any evidence that light drinking is harmful to the foetus. The chief defects in the research that make conclusions about the effects of ‘moderate’ or light' drinking invalid are..." (link)

"Wine and Pregnancy – Lies That Women Are Told...

...an increasing number of doctors and researchers who feel that pregnant women have no reason to fear drinking a glass of wine every day. As revealed by contributing editor Thomas Matthews in the August 31, 1994 issue of the "Wine Spectator" magazine which was devoted largely to this controversy, "there is even new research that shows that moderate drinking during pregnancy may actually help the development of the child after birth."..." (link)
posted by kmennie at 2:58 PM on December 11, 2007 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Well I'm 13 weeks pregnant and have twice (gasp!) has a bit of wine. It's really not going to hurt you or the fetus. I know it's really hard not to obsess about every little thing you do when you're pregnant (Is my bath water too hot? Is it safe to eat this slice of deli turkey? Have I consumed too much vitamin A? Is the exhaust from the car ahead of me poisoning us?) but I've started trying to place my experience in the greater world context. Plenty of French women drink small bits of wine throughout their pregnancy and everything turns out just fine. yes, I am aware that excessive alcohol consumption is problematic and the safest thing to do is abstain completely but I also think a lot of modern western medicine places a huge burden on women and that you have also use your own discretion. An interesting discussion of wine and pregnancy in on the Berkeley Parents Network. I know you're talking about beer but I think the argument still stands. Enjoy!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:01 PM on December 11, 2007

Best answer: The myth that pregnant women should consume NO alcohol is double-pronged.

Prong 1: Since people have wildly varying personal stances on what constitutes "light" drinking, and may be flawed in their ability to gauge their own actual level of intoxication, it is better advice from a catch-all, safety-first, mass media perspective that one abstain completely during pregnancy. That way the women who already drink little or none won't risk it, and the women who tend to drink more will at least be much more careful.

Prong 2: There is an obvious social obsession with the health of pregnant women, causing pressure on them to make the very healthiest choice in every circumstance. They are "not taking any chances". Often these healthy gestures-- such as consuming NO alcohol-- are about peer pressure, status, and fear, and are devoid of any actual benefit to the baby.

Eat up, relax, enjoy.
posted by hermitosis at 3:14 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Any thoughts?
Bon appetit.
posted by _dario at 3:21 PM on December 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks. And thanks especially to Otherwordlyglow for the Berkeley Parents Network link. What a resource! I'm sure there will be lots more pregnancy questions from me in the future. I'm going to enjoy those bivalves!
posted by natness at 3:27 PM on December 11, 2007

Sheesh, sorry for all my typos. but yes, the BPN is a great resource. I've also been able to allay LOTS of my first trimester fears through an obsessive realtionship with the pregnancy discussions on Altdotlife . You'll need to get a (free) membership to take part but there are lots of great perspectives on everything that's freaking you out right now. It was recommended to me after my own AskMe freakouts in the past few weeks, so I know what you're going through! Smart gals, minimal emoticons and blinking crap, and all sorts of good info.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:40 PM on December 11, 2007

My advice? Have a big plate of frites on the side. It's the only way to be sure your child is born with impeccable culinary taste :)
posted by deadmessenger at 5:17 PM on December 11, 2007

My doctor told my mother that a small glass of guinness or stout during both pregnancy and breastfeeding would be good for her.
posted by tomble at 5:27 PM on December 11, 2007

In my country recommendations recently changed. They now strongly recommend no alcohol whatsoever during pregnancy. I recognize that it can be stressful to worry about every tiny little thing during pregancy and I hated reading overly cautious pregnancy books that told me that I should not even eat a white flour bagel because that would be bad for the baby. I would still be cauteous with alcohol though. I don't eat mussels and don't know how much beer you'll actually consume. Like stereo says, alcohol does not cook off entirely (or sometimes not at all. Would you be comfortable feeding your infant these mussels after s/he's born? I think the advice here that it is perfectly fine to drink glasses of alcohol during pregnancy is dangerous. Every sip of alcohol you consume goes directly to your baby. Alcohol is not filtered through your placenta.
posted by davar at 5:31 PM on December 11, 2007

Best answer: Here's a burn-off chart.
posted by eritain at 9:42 PM on December 11, 2007

I don't know where you are, but, here in Canada, the federal government, regional health authorities, medical association and other organizations strongly recommend that pregnant women avoid shellfish. The risk of foodborne illness is high and there are other issues, such as mercury. As I understand it, you're not at risk because you're pregnant -- but, when you're pregnant, you're putting a developing fetus at risk.
posted by acoutu at 10:36 PM on December 11, 2007

Best answer: Mercury was the first thing that came to my mind when I read this, incidentally. But let's talk about alcohol.

We're just now starting to learn that a certain anticonvulsant (valproic acid), which is a central nervous system depressant, causes kids exposed to it in utero (because their moms were treated for epilepsy with that drug during pregnancy) to develop lower IQs and perform worse in school than children of moms with epilepsy not exposed to the drug. Oddly enough, these studies didn't really start in earnest until the drug was off patent and no one was profiting much from it any more.

The similar studies showing phenobarbital given school age kids makes their IQ drop permanently - even if they later quit taking it - were conducted decades ago, coincidentally enough right around the time that phenobarb was being superseded by newer drugs and no one was making any money off it any more. Phenobarb and alcohol have pretty similar neurochemical effects.

You've best-answered a number of questions that seek to rebut assertions that alcohol can be harmful to developing fetuses, despite the presence of overwhelming and incontrovertible epidemiologic evidence that gestational alcohol causes neural tube defects (anencephaly, spina bifida), fetal alcohol syndrome, and other problems. Someone even cited a study that showed that these major defects weren't present if the number of drinks was less than 8 per week. But what about more minor, less easily ascertained events?

I think - just my guess - that eventually we're going to learn that kids exposed to even these lower levels of alcohol have long-term cognitive problems from it. That said, I doubt there could be enough alcohol in a few mussels steamed in beer even to count it as an exposure. I'd be more worried about the foodborne illnesses (Vibrio vulnificus, anybody?) and the heavy metals.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:31 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Eating shellfish twice a week during pregnancy is associated with double the risk of a small for gestational age baby, possibly because of the metals and organochlorines.
posted by roofus at 4:29 AM on December 12, 2007

Response by poster: That's some solid information. I looked at plenty of sites, and asked my doctor, who said mussels would be OK. I neglected to ask about the steaming in beer, hence this post. I am not drinking any alcohol, so it seemed to make sense to ask about this. There is a lot of conflicting information out there, and I'm getting to the point where I feel like anything I eat is potentially dangerous. In the end, I only ate a few mussels, and they were pretty small... and ultimately unsatisfying. However, the frites were delicious.
posted by natness at 5:58 AM on December 12, 2007

Being pregnant and receiving unscientific advice go hand in hand. On fish-eating in Canada.

scholar.google.com (try bugmenot.com for some passwords) is your best friend while pregnant, too...
posted by kmennie at 11:14 AM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seafood is not interchangeable with seafood. See Google results for pregnant shellfish .gc.ca, a search of Canadian government sites for info on being pregnant and eating shellfish.
posted by acoutu at 2:07 PM on December 12, 2007

Love the Zoe Williams article. It's worth repeating her conclusion:

Despite having got yourself into a spot of bother, pregnant women, you are still in the possession of adult judgment, and you are still allowed to use it. If the official advice sounds stringent to the point of insanity, examine it more closely - you aren't just a selfish person, looking for loopholes for your own sorry enjoyment.

Try to remember, when the advice turns out to be nonsense, that not everyone has evil motives: some people will give you bad advice because they are stupid or ill-informed. Others will give you bad advice because, without even realising it, they have a yen to bring the business of procreation under closer central control. They just don't trust you. But then, why should they? You are an absurd shape and you keep crying.

posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:14 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Er, uh, shellfish is not interchangeable with seafood.
posted by acoutu at 2:16 PM on December 12, 2007

Shellfish =! seafood? Huh. Apologies, from this life-long vegetarian. (Yet more...)
posted by kmennie at 7:20 PM on December 12, 2007

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