- Copyright © 2014, The American Academy of Pediatrics
To benefit fetal growth and development, women who are breastfeeding, pregnant or who might become pregnant should consume 8-12 ounces of lower-mercury fish each week (2-3 servings), according to updated draft advice from two federal agencies. Young children also should eat more fish, the agencies noted.
The draft guidance, from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is the first to suggest a minimum amount of fish that should be consumed weekly. In 2004, the agencies recommended eating “up to 12 ounces” of fish.
The advice also suggests avoiding four types of fish associated with high methyl mercury levels: swordfish, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark and king mackerel. In addition, white (albacore) tuna should be limited to 6 ounces a week for these women.
Lower mercury fish include salmon, shrimp, pollock, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod, according to the agencies. Varying the type of fish eaten is the best approach to a balanced eating plan. Families eating fish caught from local streams, rivers and lakes should follow fish advisories from local authorities. If that is not available, limit intake of local fish to 6 oz. a week and 1-3 ounces for children.
Fish and shellfish offer high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, and some contain vitamin D. “The entire package of nutrients that fish provide may be needed to fully benefit fetal and child development,” according to an FDA news release. Omega-3 supplements may not provide “the full beneficial effect.”
Most studies on the benefits of fish consumption in pregnant women and young children have shown improvements in a child’s overall IQ and verbal IQ scores, according to Stephen Ostroff, M.D., FDA’s acting chief scientist, who participated in a telebriefing June 10 with Elizabeth Southerland, Ph.D., director of the EPA Office of Science and Technology.
An FDA analysis found pregnant women consume low levels of seafood in the U.S.: 21% said they ate no seafood in the previous month; of those who did consume seafood in that period, 50% ate less than 2 ounces a week and 75% ate less than 4 ounces.
Pregnant women who consume zero amounts of fish “are missing out on very important health and developmental benefits” for their child, said Dr. Ostroff. “It is so important there be some fish in the diet, and to optimize benefits the sweet spot is 8-12 ounces a week.”
Following a public comment period and other analysis, the agencies are expected to issue a final rule. However, the draft advice already is consistent with recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
For more information, visit http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm.