If You’re Pregnant, Eat Fish But NOT All, Says the FDA and EPA

“In January 2017, the Food & Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency updated guidance they earlier issued on fish consumption for three groups of women,” says McLeod OB/GYN Merritt King, MD. “The new guidelines are more specific and apply to women, who are pregnant, breast-feeding or of childbearing age (16 to 49).”

About half of pregnant women eat only 2 ounces of fish a week, 50% of the recommended weekly amount.

The primary difference in the new guidelines is the specificity the oversight agencies apply to which fish are preferable. All fish supplies protein, vitamins (A, B, and D) and other minerals needed by the body, such as selenium, zinc, iodine and iron. However, fish can also end up absorbing mercury, a toxin known to impair fetal development.

The FDA and EPA established three categories, according to the amount of mercury normally found in 62 types of fish.

Best Choices (eat 2 to 3 servings a week) include nearly 90% of fish eaten in the U.S., such as shrimp, salmon, tilapia, canned white tuna, catfish and cod.

Good Choices (eat 1 serving a week) include grouper, halibut, mahi mahi, snapper and yellow fin tuna.

Fish to Avoid include swordfish, shark, orange roughy, marlin and mackerel.

For a full list, click here.

Any fish eaten by pregnant or breast-feeding women should be well-cooked, and never use a microwave to cook fish. They should avoid raw fish, even the kind used in sushi. Pregnant or breast-feeding women often have a lower level of immunity than normal, making them more likely to be affected by organisms in the fish.

Even cooked, there is no way to prepare fish to avoid high levels of mercury because the metal is found throughout the tissues of the fish.

Consumer Reports takes a more conservative approach than the FDA and EPA, recommending pregnant women avoid all tuna, even canned tuna, which they claim, “can be quite high in mercury.”

For the normal adult, a typical serving of fish is about 4 ounces (before cooking), approximately the size and thickness of the palm of your hand.

Women weighing less than 165 pounds may wish to eat smaller portions or less than three portions weekly.

Taking an Omega-3 supplement is helpful. However, it won’t furnish your body everything that’s gained from regularly eating fish in the “Best” and “Good Choice” categories.

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Sources include: McLeod Health, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Food and Drug Administration, Consumer Reports, OB/GYN News, American Pregnancy Association