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Choosing the Safest Fish to Eat During Pregnancy

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As a parent or an expectant mom, you may have travelled down the same path as many others- searching for the healthiest diet for your family or soon-to-be newborn.

Fish is one of the foods that rank high on the healthy food chart. It’s frequently referred to as a “brain food” because of its brain-boosting nutrients, particularly omega-3 fatty acid. Certain fish are an excellent choice while others may contain high levels of mercury; a known toxin than can harm a developing child.

Mercury is a common seafood pollutant. This neurotoxic chemical can harm a baby’s developing brain in utero, even at very low levels of exposure.

Seas are increasingly polluted by toxic chemicals from 2 major sources: small gold mines and coal fired power plants, according to a recent report by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF.)

Mercury in a mother’s body can be transferred to her fetus during pregnancy, exposing the developing fetus to the potent neurotoxin.

The report states that millions of women of childbearing age who eat mercury -contaminated fish have enough of the toxic chemicals in their bodies to harm a developing child. “55% of the global sample of women measured more than 0.58ppm of mercury, a level associated with the onset of fetal neurological damage.” This is the finding of a new, first of its kind report on mercury levels in women of childbearing age in 25 countries by HBBF partner, IPEN: the International POPs Elimination Network

While these findings may make you wonder if any fish are safe to eat, many health experts recommend that women who are pregnant should not give up eating fish out of fear of mercury toxins, but should focus on eating fish found to be very low in mercury. These include: wild Alaska salmon, sardines from the Pacific, farmed mussels, farmed rainbow trout, and Atlantic mackerel (not trawled).  

High mercury risk fish to avoid include shark, swordfish, orange roughy. bigeye tuna, king mackerel and marlin.

The FDA and the EPA joined forces this year and released new guidelines on fish consumption for pregnant women or those who might become pregnant, breastfeeding mothers and parents of young children. To governmental agencies created a chart to help these consumers more easily understand the types of fish to select. The agencies have an easy-to-use reference chart that sorts 62 types of fish into three categories:

  • “Best choices” (eat two to three servings a week)
  • “Good choices” (eat one serving a week)
  • “Fish to avoid”

Fish in the “best choices” category make up nearly 90 percent of fish eaten in the United States. The chart can be found online at https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm393070.htm

The HBBF report also includes a warning about canned tuna. Limit your intake of canned tuna. While tuna is higher in Omega 3s and nutrients than most fish, the mercury levels can vary in individual tuna. Light canned tuna is recommended over white tuna; however, HBBF notes in their report that scientists found that for both types, the potential harm to a baby’s brain exceeds the fish nutrients’ brain-boosting assets.

One tip to remember is that larger fish tend to absorb more mercury than smaller types of fish. Fish should not be eliminated from any family’s diet; the benefits far outweigh the dangers. However, it’s important to choose fish that are known to be lower in mercury for a healthier outcome.

Story sources:  Charlotte Brody, RN, http://blog.hbbf.org/toxic-mercury-and-your-babys-ability-to-learn/

https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm393070.htm

 

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