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Got Fish? FDA’s New Recommendations for Expecting Moms

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Do you wonder how much fish is safe to eat during your pregnancy?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued final advice regarding fish consumption. This advice is geared toward helping women who are pregnant or may become pregnant – as well as breastfeeding mothers and parents of young children – make informed choices when it comes to fish that are healthy and safe to eat. (This advice refers to fish and shellfish collectively as “fish.”)

To help these consumers more easily understand the types of fish to select, the agencies have created 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.

An FDA analysis of fish consumption data found that 50 percent of pregnant women surveyed ate fewer than 2 ounces a week, far less than the amount recommended. Because the nutritional benefits of eating fish are important for growth and development during pregnancy and early childhood, the agencies are advising and promoting a minimum level of fish consumption for these groups. The advice recommends 2-3 servings of lower-mercury fish per week, or 8 to 12 ounces. However, all fish contain at least traces of mercury, which can be harmful to the brain and nervous system if a person is exposed to too much of it over time. The maximum level of consumption recommended in the final advice is consistent with the previous recommended level of 12 ounces per week. The new advice is consistent with the 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

For adults, a typical serving is 4 ounces of fish, measured before cooking. Serving sizes for children should be smaller and adjusted for their age and total calorie needs. It is recommended that children eat fish once or twice a week, selected from a variety of fish types.

“Fish are an important source of protein and other nutrients for young children and women who are or may become pregnant, or are breastfeeding. This advice clearly shows the great diversity of fish in the U.S. market that they can consume safely,” said FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Stephen Ostroff, M.D. “This new, clear and concrete advice is an excellent tool for making safe and healthy choices when buying fish.” Choices lower in mercury include some of the most commonly eaten fish, such as shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod.

When updating the advice, the agencies took a cautious and highly protective approach to allow consumers to enjoy the benefits of fish while avoiding those with higher levels of mercury, which is especially important during pregnancy and early childhood. The average mercury content of each type of fish was calculated based on FDA data and information from other sources. The updated advice cautions parents of young children and certain women to avoid seven types of fish that typically have higher mercury levels: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico; shark; swordfish; orange roughy; bigeye tuna; marlin; and king mackerel.

The EPA, a federal agency, works to protect all Americans from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work. The agency focuses on all parts of society, from individuals to businesses and local governments. It develops regulations concerning natural resources, energy, transportation, agriculture, and industry and supports the various facets of environmental research and protection.

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