Fish Consumption During Pregnancy—To Do or Not To Do?

You may have heard that eating fish during pregnancy is good for you. Conversely, you may have also heard that you should limit your fish intake during pregnancy. What’s a soon-to-be mama to do with all the conflicting advice? I’d like to help clear up the confusion on this important topic.

Currently, the FDA recommends that women who might become pregnant, who are pregnant, or who are nursing, along with young children all avoid fish that are known to contain high levels of mercury. Most notably:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish

The National Resources Defense Council issued a more complete list of high-mercury fish which adds to the FDA’s list the following:

  • Orange roughy
  • Marlin
  • Ahi tuna
  • Bigeye tuna

The FDA also recommends that these women and children eat up to 12 ounces a week (the equivalent of two average meals) of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most common they recommend are:

  • Shrimp
  • Canned light tuna*
  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Catfish

Two advocacy organizations recently sued the FDA, demanding that they require labeling of canned and packaged fish to inform consumers of the mercury content. The fish industry is concerned that such labels will scare people from eating fish altogether, however. They do have a point, but I think that the more we know about the foods we’re eating, the better

There is one other important factor that they are not taking into account—which fish are low in mercury and also high in beneficial omega-3 fats? Those are the fish we need to be eating as much as possible. Unfortunately, the list is quite short. The three fish lowest in mercury and highest in omega-3 fats are:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Herring

If you are a fan of one or more of these three fish, that’s great news. Eat these fish as often as possible. If you are not—some people simply can’t take the stronger fish flavor of these three fish—then your best bet is a high-potency, purified fish oil supplement that is enteric coated for less fishy aftertaste. Look for a high-potency supplement with the IFOS label to ensure that the fish oil meets or exceeds international standards for purity, potency, and freshness.

*Not albacore tuna, which is high in mercury.

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