Find Out Why Pregnant Women Should Eat Fish, And How Much Is Safe.

Conflicting reports about safe levels of mercury in fish have some pregnant women concerned to the point they are completely eliminating fish from their diet. Find out why the nutrients in fish are so important to your baby’s developing brain and how you can make sure you are eating the right types of fish.
By Gayle Trent

In a recent study, Nancy Childs, PhD, professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and her research colleagues warned of the risks of this decreased consumption of fish among childbearing, pregnant and lactating women and young children. 

“It is conservatively estimated that 73%, or two million women, may not be consuming enough low-mercury fish during their pregnancy,” says Childs. “By decreasing the amount of fish they eat, rather than just minimizing their consumption of large fish, pregnant women are missing the advantages of this low fat, high protein component of a healthy diet.”
The Benefits of Fish
Childs contends there is much evidence that the consumption of fish—in particular, the n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids—reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. “Fish is also beneficial to the cognitive development of the fetal and infant brain,” she says.

Which Fish Are Safe?
In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration issued a joint advisory to pregnant and nursing women warning that excessive consumption of high mercury in fish can have dangerous neurological consequences to infants and young children. Methyl mercury, the toxic metal found in all fish, is present at the highest levels among swordfish, shark, bluefin, mackerel, tilefish and tuna.
“It’s really about which fish, how much is eaten and who is consuming the fish that’s important,” Childs says. She feels pregnant women should be encouraged to simply replace high mercury fish with low mercury fish.

According to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, women and young children may eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. These include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Be advised that albacore or “white” tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. The departments advise eating no more than 6 ounces or one average meal of albacore tuna per week.
The departments also warn consumers to check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas. If no local advisory is in effect, eat only 6 ounces per week of fish caught from local waters, and don’t eat any other fish during that week.

Eating Well reports that chunk light tuna, which comes from smaller fish—skipjack or yellowfin—is best for health-conscious eaters. Eating Well also suggests consumers buy “U.S. farm-raised tilapia, which is usually grown in closed farming systems that limit pollution and prevent escapes. Some Central and South American tilapia is farmed in this manner as well, but avoid tilapia from China and Taiwan, mostly farmed in open systems.”  

Don’t think you’re simply stuck with the square filets you find in your grocer’s freezer -- even if you’re not an avid cook. Several websites, including SheKnows and Better Recipes, have a variety of healthy fish recipes. 
But what if I don’t like fish?
Fish oil capsules have some benefits, such as the provision of omega-3s, but actual fish provides protein and minerals the capsules don’t provide. Therefore, if you absolutely cannot stand the taste of fish and wish to supplement your diet with fish oil capsules, be sure to eat other foods high in protein and take a multivitamin.

Before taking fish oil capsules, however, talk with your healthcare provider, because fish oil supplements are blood thinners.

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