FDA Guidelines Advise on Choosing Safe Fish for Your Family

Fish is a nutrient-packed superfood. Guidelines from the FDA and EPA spell out how much you should eat and how to pick the safest varieties.

Fish has plenty of health perks, especially for babies, young children, and pregnant people. But how much should you serve your family and which types of fish are best? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offer guidelines on how to consume fish safely, making navigating the fish counter easier. Here's what parents need to know.

How Much Fish Should My Family Eat?

The FDA recommends that kids eat fish twice a week. That's because nutrients in fish—like omega-3 fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals—help support their developing brains and immune systems. Pregnant or breastfeeding people should eat two or three servings per week, as fish is shown to benefit a developing baby.

Here's what a serving of fish looks like:

Here's What a Serving of Fish Looks Like
Ages Ounces of Fish
1 to 3 years 1 ounce
4 to 7 years  2 ounces
8 to 10 years 3 ounces
11 years and up 4 ounces

Choosing the Best Types of Fish

The FDA has created a three-tiered list of fish based on which has the least mercury, a heavy metal that can harm the human brain and nervous system if consumed in large quantities. The list is divided into "Best Choices," "Good Choices," and "Choices to Avoid." You can read the full list here.

Here's what each category says.

fresh salmon with spices
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Best Choice

You should always strive to choose fish from the "Best Choice list," since these fish species have the least amount of mercury and other heavy metals, making them the safest choices. The FDA includes 36 types of fish, including some popular varieties that often appear on restaurant menus and grocery fish counters such as:

  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Black sea bass
  • Catfish
  • Clams
  • Cod
  • Crab
  • Flounder Haddock
  • Lobster
  • Oyster
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Tilapia
  • Trout
  • Tuna (canned-lite, includes skipjack)
  • Whitefish

Good Choices

The "Good Choices" category includes 19 fish species. These fish have higher levels of mercury than those listed under "Best Choices," so you should limit servings to just one per week. They include:

  • Canned albacore (white) tuna
  • Grouper
  • Halibut
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Snapper
  • Tuna

Choices to Avoid

Children, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding people, should steer clear of all varieties on the FDA's "Choices to Avoid" list because of high mercury content. The seven fish identified include:

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico)
  • Tuna, bigeye

What About Fish You Caught?

The FDA recommends checking for any fish or shellfish advisories to ensure that your catch is safe to consume. You can use this EPA link to look up fish advisories based on state, territory, and tribe.

FDA Guidelines on Safe Fish Consumption

If your family eats fish, follow these guidelines and recommendations from the FDA and EPA.

Fish is safe for babies

After they turn 1 year old, children can have about 1 ounce of fish twice a week from that "Best Choices" list. This advice echoes the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend introducing potentially allergenic foods like fish, peanuts, egg, cow's milk, and soy when you start other solids. There is no scientific evidence that delaying these items will help prevent food allergies (always talk to your pediatrician first, especially if there's a family history of food allergies or signs of other allergies).

Fish is beneficial during pregnancy

Research shows that fish can help a baby's developing brain and is associated with better cognitive outcomes. The FDA recommends that pregnant people eat between two and three servings per week. A serving for adults is roughly 4 ounces of fish, and as with kids, those servings should mostly come from the "Best Choices" list.

Fish is important for young kids

Specific nutrients in fish—like omega-3 and omega-6 fats, iron, zinc, and choline—are used by the body for developing a healthy brain, spinal cord, and immune system in the womb and during early childhood.

Fish is good for overall health

Fish doesn't just have health benefits for babies and kids. It's known as a heart-healthy food for adults, and there's also evidence that diets including fish are linked to a lower risk for obesity, hip fractures, colon cancer, and rectal cancer.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, Parents advisor, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition.

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