I often hear pregnant women say that they can't eat fish because of the high mercury content that could harm their baby's development.
While this is a common perspective among seafood consumers today, a recent article I read claimed that the benefits of eating fish during pregnancy actually greatly outweigh the risks of mercury levels affecting the fetus. In other words, eating fish can make your child smarter! The question to ask then is really how much fish to eat before the risks outweigh the benefits?
Philip Spiller, the former director of the FDA's Office of Seafood and his colleague Michael Bolger, the former director of chemical assessments at the FDA did an assessment to see if women should eat fish during pregnancy. Their results?
Yes - pregnant women should eat fish, but with certain caveats.
Currently the FDA recommended amount of fish for pregnant women is 12 ounces per week. “It’s important for pregnant women to understand that 12 ounces is not the edge of danger, i.e. that 12 ounces is not a dividing line between safe and unsafe or anywhere close to it,” Spiller says.
If you're pregnant but crave seafood, be sure to:
1) Check where the fish came from - fish from polluted waters like Japan's Minamata Bay are toxic to eat for example
2) Not all seafood have equal amounts of mercury - for example, shrimp have lower levels of mercury than tuna
3) Choose a fish that is high in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and low in methyl mercury
4) The 8–12 ounce-of-fish-per-week FDA guideline should be viewed as an optimum range for enhancing neurodevelopment, not a maximum past which fetal harm is guaranteed
5) Eat cooked vs. raw fish - this kills off anything that could harm your baby
It's salmon season now.
So if you're pregnant, leave the fear behind and go indulge!