Is it Safe to Eat Fish During Pregnancy?

salmon-dinnerDo you have questions about eating seafood while you’re pregnant? Have you been told to avoid sushi or to be careful about high mercury levels in fish? Moms want nothing more than to protect their kids and to give them a good start in life, and part of that is getting good nutrition during pregnancy. There are tons of lists out there about what to eat or not eat when you’re pregnant and a lot of the advice can be confusing. One of the more controversial items I’ve seen up for debate is fish; to eat or not to eat, and how much is safe to eat if you do eat it?

Seafood and Pregnancy Pros and Cons

So what’s the deal with seafood? On the positive side, seafood and fish are healthy sources of protein, zinc, and iron, along with omega-3 fatty acids that support a growing baby’s brain development. More problematic however is that many fish, especially the larger predatory species, can be full of mercury and other toxins. This is because these animals are higher up on the food chain and they absorb and then bioaccumulate toxins from their own food sources. Mercury is a health concern for humans and when ingested, mercury can cross through the placenta into a fetus’ circulation, causing organ and tissue damage. Mercury especially affects a growing baby’s brain and neurological development. The Environmental Protection Agency states that children exposed to mercury in utero may develop issues with cognition, attention, language, memory, and fine motor and visual spatial skills.

Safe Seafood Options and Portion Sizes

Despite the concerns, most researchers and doctors agree that fish should still be included in a pregnant woman’s diet due to the numerous health benefits this food group provides. Currently the FDA recommends women eat 8 to 12 oz of fish each week during pregnancy. This is equivalent to 2 or 3 portions per week. However, pregnant women (and everyone really!) should be careful to choose fish species that are lowest in mercury content. Good choices of fish that are low in mercury levels include: Wild Alaskan Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Sardines, Anchovies, and Atlantic Mackerel. Fish that are high in mercury, such as Shark, Swordfish, Orange Roughy, and Marlin should be avoided. Albacore and other species of tuna are also relatively high in mercury and should be limited to no more than one serving per month. Raw fish and sushi are also not recommended in pregnancy due to risk for parasites and food-borne illnesses.

Safe Seafood Guide

If this sounds overwhelming to navigate and remember, there is thankfully a great online resource for moms-to-be. The Environmental Working Group offers a customized tool to help you find clean and nutrient-rich seafood sources. The guide lists seafood choices that are big on nutrition and low in heavy metals. This resource is amazing even if you’re not pregnant, since you can input your age, gender, and health information and it automatically gives you recommendations on what kinds of fish to eat, along with how many servings you should aim for each week.

So fear not! Armed with a little knowledge on what choices to make, fish and seafood are a great addition to a healthy diet and they can provide lots of nutrients to support a healthy growing baby.

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