What You Need to Know About Eating Fish
With concerns about mercury levels in fish -- a usually healthful food, how much fish should pregnant women eat? What other options provide the same health benefits as fish? Follow these guidelines to stay healthy.
Government's Advice to Pregnant Women continued...
The EPA and FDA advise pregnant women, young women who may become pregnant, or women who are nursing:
- Do not eat: Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
- Eat up to 12 ounces a week: Fish and shellfish varieties that are lower in mercury. These include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. (An average can of tuna is 6 ounces.)
- Buy canned tuna carefully. Light tuna has less mercury than albacore ("white") tuna. However, up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week is safe.
- Check local fish advisories: Locally caught fish should be checked with local health departments. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.
- Apply these guidelines to young children: They can eat these low-mercury fish and shellfish. However, feed children smaller portions.
- Fish sticks: Frozen fish sticks and fast-food fish sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury.
- Tuna steaks generally contain higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna.
Undisputed Benefits of Omega-3 Fats
The omega-3 fats in many fish and seafood are known to lower risk of heart disease and benefit the brain. The American Heart Association advises at least two servings a week of fish like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon because of these healthy fats. However, the following people should take care to consume fish sources of omega-3 fats with lower mercury content: women who wish to become pregnant or are now pregnant; women who are nursing; and young children.
In a developing fetus, omega-3 fats promote brain, eye, and motor development, the EPA notes.
Pregnant Women and Big Fish Risks
The mercury in fish and seafood is indeed the big concern -- although there are other toxins like PCBs that have warranted some worry. Mercury exists naturally in the environment, but more is released into air, land, and water by trash burning, fossil fuel combustion in factories, mining, and the dumping of sewage sludge in croplands.