In 2004, pregnant women were told to eat a limited amount of fish when pregnant, however a new study shows that pregnant women should be eating more fish. The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now suggest that pregnant women should eat at least eight to twelve ounces of fish per week.
Chief Scientist Stephen Ostroff, MD, confirms that the majority of pregnant women are not eating enough fish. Since fish, with low mercury content, can provide many health and development benefits to pregnant women, by not eating enough of it, pregnant women are missing out on important nutrients.
Madeyln Fernstrom, a Diet and Food Editor at Today, confirms that pregnant women should be eating more fish because of the many health benefits it can provide. Fernstrom says that fish is low in saturated fat and it is a high quality protein. Fish is also naturally high in vitamin D and selenium, which support good health for the heart and brain, and it is also high in omega-3 fats.
The recommendation of eating eight ounces of fish per week not only applies to pregnant women, but also women who are breastfeeding. Both the FDA and the EPA recommend that only fish with a low mercy content should be selected. These fish include: pollock, shrimp, salmon, tilapia, cod, catfish, and canned light tuna.
However, there are still a few fish that pregnant women should not be eating. The fish on the do-not-eat list include: shark, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, king mackerel, and swordfish. The marlin and the orange roughy are still being investigated as to whether or not they should be added to the do-not-eat list.
Another fish that pregnant women should consume in a limited amount is albacore tuna. Pregnant women should only eat about six ounces of albacore tuna a week. Whether the tuna is in steak form or in canned form, it still contains high levels of mercury.
Local fish, meaning they are caught in local waters, should also be cautiously limited to only six ounces a week for adults and one to three ounces per week for children. This is because the local watershed many not be regulated or monitored carefully, so it is impossible to determine the mercury levels.
Ostroff states that simply taking fish oil supplements is not a good substitute for eating actual fish. Ostroff explains that fish has many health benefits, which include many nutrients and proteins beyond just omega-3 fatty acids. Ostroff says the majority of pregnant women are not even close to eating the amount of fish per week that they should be eating.
The FDA recommends eating eight to 12 ounces of fish per week, or two to three servings, as the “sweet spot.” This amount will give the most health benefits to developing fetuses and children, while minimizing the amount of methyl mercury.
Ostroff reassures pregnant women, who are concerned about the amount of methyl mercury they are consuming, by explaining that most types of fish that are available in the United States do not contain enough mercury to be of concern. Out of the 10 most commonly eaten fish in the United States, nine are toward the lower end of mercury content and eight are on the very low end of the scale.
By Sara Petersen