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FDA urges pregnant women to eat more fish

This week FDA and EPA issued new draft advice on eating seafood during pregnancy. The verdict? Moms-to-be, nursing mamas and young children should eat more fish.

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FDA originally issued seafood advice in 2004. It stated that seafood is full of beneficial nutrients and pregnant women need to eat fish. Unfortunately, the overly-cautious tone of the 2004 language left many pregnant women–and their doctors and nurses–confused about whether eating seafood was, frankly, worth the risk.

To illustrate, the first line of the 2004 FDA seafood advice cautions women to avoid high-mercury fish, like swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel. The second line then recommends that pregnant women eat up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood. The third line advises pregnant women and parents of young children to check local advisories for fish caught in lakes and rivers.

Ten years and hundreds of research studies later, the advice is not entirely different. But, the tone is much more positive and encouraging. The 2014 draft FDA seafood advice urges pregnant and breastfeeding women to eat more seafood, at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood each week. The advice regarding the four fish to avoid (shark, swordfish, king mackerel and Gulf of Mexico tilefish) and checking local advisories for sport-caught fish (from local rivers, streams and lakes) remains similar.

As a dietitian who consults with National Fisheries Institute, I am intimately familiar with the nutrition benefits, science and federal recommendations for seafood. All fish contain traces of naturally-occurring mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause damage to the brain and nervous system in excessive amounts. However, mercury poisoning occurs from environmental disasters, not from eating healthy amounts of seafood.

All fish and shellfish contain a boatload of beneficial nutrients for baby’s brain and eyes and mom’s heart. Seafood is a great source–one of the only natural sources–of omega-3s DHA and EPA, which comprise 50% of a developing brain and 60% of the retina. Seafood also contains lean protein, selenium, vitamin D and B vitamins. According to the FDA, “The nutritional value of fish is especially important during growth and development before birth, in early infancy for breastfed infants, and in childhood.”

The bottom line: Pregnant women is the U.S. eat too little seafood, less than 2 ounces a week. Two ounces a week! According to this draft advice, most expecting and nursing moms need to quadruple the amount of seafood they eat each week. Not only will junior benefit–potentially with a higher IQ–but so will mom.

For a super-tasty way to get your omega-3s this summer, check out my Summer Superfoods Salad recipe posted in The Washingtonian last summer.

PLEASE SHARE: Does the draft advice do enough to encourage pregnant and nursing moms to eat more seafood? Please share. I’d love to hear from you.

Although I provide consult to National Fisheries Institute, the opinions expressed on this blog are entirely my own opinions, and do not reflect the opinions of the National Fisheries Institute or any other client with whom I contract. National Fisheries Institute is not responsible for any information contained in this blog.

2 Comments
  1. The right diet for pregnant women is so important for your baby. A healthy pregnancy really begins in your first trimester when you are developing habits and your baby is starting to form. During the first trimester your baby’s major body systems are formed. This means your baby is in need of the best possible nutrients.

  2. Yes, great points, Dr. Muoneke. What expecting moms eat is so important for baby’s optimal development, which is why getting enough seafood-based omega-3s is vital. Thank you for your comment.

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