more fish during pregnancy
June 11, 2014

FDA Encouraging Pregnant, Breast-Feeding Women To Eat More Fish, As Long As They Are Low In Mercury

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A decade after first advising pregnant and breast-feeding women to avoid most types of seafood, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now encouraging those individuals to eat more fish – provided it is low in mercury.

The FDA, in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new set of guidelines Tuesday encouraging pregnant and breast-feeding women, as well as those who might become pregnant and young children, to consume more of the right types of fish due to the essential developmental and health benefits they provide.

According to Brianna Sacks of the Los Angeles Times, the approved fish include salmon, trout, anchovies and sardines, all of which are high in essential omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, the agency also noted that pollock, shrimp, talapia, catfish, cod and canned light tuna were safe for women to consume while pregnant or breast feeding.

“For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children,” explained FDA acting chief scientist Dr. Stephen Ostroff. “But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health.”

The new draft update is the first since 2004, and according to Reuters reporter Toni Clarke, it continues to recommend that pregnant women avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico. The agencies are currently seeking public comment on whether or not orange roughy and marlin should be added to the “fish to avoid” list.

“The regulators had previously recommended pregnant women eat as much as 12 ounces of seafood a week but had not suggested a minimum,” she said. Previously, the FDA and EPA had established maximum amounts of low-mercury fish that these women and children should consume, but opted to alter their policy in response to recent research emphasizing the importance of appropriate fish consumption in the diets of these groups.

Clarke noted that the proposed changes have disappointed some consumer groups in favor of limiting methylmercury exposure, which can reportedly cause prenatal harm. The fishing industry, conversely, has embraced the changes, stating that the new guidelines focus more on the nutritional benefits of seafood than the potential risk.

The FDA said that it conducted an analysis of seafood consumption from more than 1,000 American women. They found that 21 percent of them had consumed no fish during the previous month, 50 percent had eaten less than two ounces per week, and 75 percent had consumed less than four ounces per week. They now suggest pregnant women eat between 8 and 12 ounces (2-3 servings) of low-mercury fish each week.

However, as the Washington Post’s Brady Dennis pointed out, the agencies are recommending that pregnant and breast-feeding women and young children should limit the amount of white or albacore tuna to just six ounces per week. They also said that families should consult local guidelines when it comes to eating seafood caught in local rivers, streams and lakes.

“Tuesday’s recommendations appeared to be an attempt to balance the varying views on how much mercury is safe for certain vulnerable groups,” Dennis said. “But it is unlikely to satisfy consumer advocates who have long pushed the FDA to require labeling on seafood packages disclosing mercury content, saying such an approach would be more effective than hard-to-remember government guidelines.”

“Eating fish with lower levels of mercury provides numerous health and dietary benefits,” added Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Water. “This updated advice will help pregnant women and mothers make informed decisions about the right amount and right kinds of fish to eat during important times in their lives and their children’s lives.”