Pregnant women eating fish isn’t as unsafe as it once was portrayed. Expecting women are able to eat certain seafood, but not others. It is important to know what is safe to eat during this special time. Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN, CDN, explains five key facts to know while eating fish during pregnancy.
Eating fish packs a hefty nutritional punch of essential nutrients. It’s rich in protein, low in saturated fat, contains vitamin D and essential omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, research consistently supports eating seafood at least two times per week for a myriad of health benefits from diminishing heart disease risk, improving brain health, and reducing the risk of death.But is it safe to eat fish freely during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is the one time in your life when what you eat directly impacts someone else. For many, it’s a time to pay closer attention to nutrition and health. Some foods, like alcohol and raw meat, are off limits, but eating a combination of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein is important for you and your developing baby.
Fish contains many essential nutrients for pregnant women and is a great way to meet your protein needs. But, it’s important to be an informed consumer, especially during this special time in your life. From potential contaminants to the best serving sizes, here are five facts you need to know about eating seafood during pregnancy:
1. The Benefits of Eating Fish Outweigh Potential Contaminants
Fish is known to contain contaminants from the sea, which is why fish consumption was not always considered safe during pregnancy. However, experts suggest that the benefits of eating fish, even during childbearing years, outweigh the potential contaminants.
Historically, women were told to limit fish consumption during pregnancy because of high mercury levels. Mercury is a heavy metal that can be toxic to brain development, but not all fish contain high levels of mercury. Many fish that have some mercury also contain high levels of the antioxidant selenium. Selenium helps mitigate certain effects of mercury. Nevertheless, experts suggest limiting or eliminating some species of fish during pregnancy or while breastfeeding (see below for the full list).
The average mercury content of tuna rises with the age and size of the fish. Wild Planet only sources pole and line as well as troll caught tuna, which are the younger and smaller, migratory tuna that are caught near the surface. These fish (3-5 years of age) have accumulated lower levels of mercury as compared to older and larger tuna (6-12 years old) which live at much lower depths and in a different part of the Pacific Ocean. Our annual third-party testing protocol, verifies that Wild Planet tuna products average 0.076PPM for Skipjack (which is 13 times lower than the FDA “Action Limit” of 1.0PPM) and 0.17PPM for Albacore (which is six times lower than the FDA “Action Limit” of 1.0PPM). Wild Planet has been controlling the average and range of mercury in its products since 2004 and continues to do so.
Overall, one of the biggest health risks in pregnancy is not eating enough seafood. The beneficial protein, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin D in seafood outweigh the risks of consumption.
2. You Can Safely Eat 8-12 Ounces of Seafood Per Week
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), in conjunction with the guidelines set forth from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is safe for pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, and breastfeeding mothers to eat 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish weekly. That equates to about 2-3 servings per week.
Unfortunately, research shows that 50 percent of pregnant women eat two ounces or less of fish each week.
Expecting mothers who regularly eat fish are helping themselves and their developing babies. These positive benefits include:
- Better fetus brain development
- Higher IQ status for babies
- Reduced risk of mental illness, especially depression
- Good heart health for mom and baby
- Improved health for mothers
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are Essential for You and Your Baby
Your baby’s brain and eye development will greatly benefit from regular fish consumption during pregnancy. Omega-3 fatty acids are the key nutrient found in fish that supports good brain health, but your body cannot create it on its own. Therefore, it’s necessary to eat foods that contain essential omega-3 fatty acids.
Two types of omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood, Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA). For example, regularly eating fatty fish, like salmon (including canned salmon), canned sardines, tuna, halibut, and cod can help you meet your daily quota for these fatty acids.
Luckily, the fish highest in omega-3 are also the lowest in mercury, making them safe and recommended during pregnancy.
Even more, studies show that pregnant women with proper levels of DHA have a reduced risk of preterm labor and infants may have a lower incidence of allergies.
4. You Should Plan Ahead to Choose the Safest Species
When it comes to seafood, pregnant women should choose to eat the “best choices,” or those lowest in mercury and highest in omega-3 fatty acids. This includes:
- Black sea bass
- Atlantic and Pacific mackerel
- And more
Additionally, pregnant women should consume only one serving (6 ounces) per week of “good choices,” as outlined by the FDA and EPA. These include:
- Albacore (white) tuna
- Yellowfin tuna
- Chilean sea bass
- And more
When pregnant, be cautious of eating fish caught by family and friends. Check advisories, and when no advisory exists, experts suggest limiting to one serving per week and not to eat other fish that week.
5. Not All Forms of Seafood Are Safe During Pregnancy
While eating 8-12 ounces of seafood per week is safe for pregnant women, the FDA and EPA warn against eating four types of fish that are highest in mercury:
- King mackerel
Both pregnant women and small children should avoid these fish to prevent developmental problems from mercury toxicity.
Additionally, pregnant women should avoid raw or uncooked fish, as commonly found in sushi and sashimi. Raw fish has a greater likelihood of containing bacteria that can be harmful to a fetus.
Overall, when you know what to eat, there’s nothing fishy about regularly eating fish and shellfish during pregnancy. In fact, it’s more important for pregnant women to eat 2-3 servings of fish weekly than not for both maternal and fetal health.
Are you or is someone you know pregnant? Share the wealth of information from Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN, CDN, to get the right nutrition from safely eating seafood for you and baby!