Many of us have heard that its not safe to eat too much fish during pregnancy or breastfeeding, because of the risk of mercury poisoning. However, fish is actually good for a developing pregnancy and for young children. In a press release from the FDA and EPA, the US government has announced that current guidelines on fish consumption for pregnant women and children have resulted in too much limitation in the amount of fish being consumed by these segments of the population.
Scientific evidence is accumulating that indicates that for developing babies and children, fish is an important source of nutrients, especially omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are difficult to obtain from nonmarine sources. While present in such foods as walnuts and flax seed, omega 3 fatty acids from land plants is typically ALA, which must be converted to DHA and EPA for use by the human body. This conversion process is highly inefficient. So, the easiest way to get enough EPA and DHA is from seafood.
Fish intake is also associated with a lower risk of preterm birth, and better fetal growth. This may be because of the anti-inflammatory properties of omega 3 fatty acids or because fish are an excellent source of high quality protein.
However, when the FDA surveyed more than 1000 pregnant women, 21% ate no fish at all and 75% reported eating less than 4 ounces a week. The FDA is now considering changing its guidance to encourage pregnant and nursing women to eat 8-12 ounces of low mercury fish a week. This is the equivalent of 2 cans of tuna, or 2-3 servings of fish per week.
The proposed guidelines will also emphasize that most fish commonly purchased from the grocery store is low in mercury. This includes canned light tuna, salmon, shrimp, tilapia, pollock (often found in fish sticks), catfish, cod, haddock, and flatfish.
Of the top ten fish species sold in the US, only albacore tuna is considered higher in mercury. The FDA will recommend that consumers limit their intake of albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces per week, or 1-3 ounces per week for young children. More than 12 ounces (3 servings) of fish a week may also pose a risk high mercury intake.
Also, fresh, locally caught fish may have varying amounts of mercury. The proposed guidelines state that people concerned with the amount of mercury they are taking in need to consult local authorities about the amount of mercury in locally caught fish.
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