Fish is a four-star food. It's an excellent source of protein, it is very low in saturated fat, it's rich in omega-3 fatty acids (which help build and maintain a healthy brain and nervous system), and with a few exceptions, it's low in calories. It can even help keep your heart healthy.
- Now the bad news: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. For most adults the amount of mercury consumed when eating fish poses no health danger. For pregnant women, however, mercury in fish can be dangerous because it can harm a baby's developing nervous system. For that reason the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advice pregnant women, nursing mothers, women who might become pregnant, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat other fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. For more information, or to find out about fish advisories in your state, check the EPA website at www.epa.gov/ost/fish.
Be sure to follow these government guidelines:
- Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. These are large fish that live long lives. These fish pose the greatest risk because they've had more time to accumulate mercury in their bodies.
- Eat up to 12 ounces (about two meals) a week of fish and shellfish that are lowest in mercury. These include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. (White tuna contains more mercury than light tuna.) Other fish that contain low levels of mercury (but not as low as the aforementioned) include anchovies, butterfish, clams, cod, crab (blue, king, and snow), crawfish, Atlantic croaker, flatfish (flounder, plaice, sole), haddock, hake, herring, jacksmelt, spiny lobster, North Atlantic mackerel, Pacific mackerel chub, mullet, oysters, ocean perch, pickerel, sardines, scallops, American shad, squid, tilapia, freshwater trout, and whiting.
- Check local advisories to determine the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat no more than 6 ounces (one meal) of fish from local waters and no other fish during that week. When in doubt, eat something else.
- If you eat more than the recommended amount of fish in a week, cut back during the next week or two so that you average the recommended amount per week.
- Never eat raw fish.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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