Nutrition-wise blog

Most women and young children should eat more fish

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. July 15, 2014

The most recent advice from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Most women and young children should eat more fish. However, at the same time, they warn about fish dangers. Confused? Read on.

As early as 1994, the FDA alerted the public about mercury contamination of fish. Ten years ago it cautioning those most vulnerable to mercury contamination — women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers, their infants and young children. The advice was to avoid these fish due to high mercury content:

  • Tilefish
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel

Additional advice includes:

  • Limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces a week.
  • Limit other types of fish to no more than 12 ounces a week (adjust the serving size to be appropriate for young children).
  • When you or others catch your own fish (and you are unaware if there is an advisory on fish caught from the body of water) — limit to 6 ounces a week (adults) or 1 to 3 ounces a week (young children).

Now 10 years later, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency are again altering their recommendations — but balancing the concern about mercury intake with equal concern about not getting the beneficial nutrients and health effects fish can provide when eaten. Fish contain high quality protein, many vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids and some contain vitamin D. The nutritional value of fish is especially important during growth and nerve and brain development before birth, in early infancy for breastfed infants, and in childhood.

The new guidelines set a minimum amount of fish to eat. They also provide suggestions for healthier fish choices. Women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers and young children should:

  • Eat 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish each week (adjust the serving size to be appropriate for young children).
  • Choose fish lower in mercury. These include salmon, pollock, tilapia, cod and tuna (including light canned).

The FDA continues to advise avoidance of the four fish listed above because of high mercury content. The FDA also continues to recommend limiting white (albacore) tuna to no more than 6 ounces weekly. The advisory about catching your own fish remains in effect too.

These are subtle, but important changes. Many pre-pregnant, pregnant and nursing women currently consume only about 1.8 ounces of fish a week – when they should be eating 8 to 12 ounces a week. The new advisory helps balance the scales in favor of eating safe amounts of safe fish.

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Jul. 15, 2014