Over the past few decades, women have taken heed to warnings about mercury toxicity and fish consumption. But now the Food and Drug Administration says many are going too far, missing out on important nutrients present in fish out of fear of passing mercury to their unborn children. The FDA has since released new advice, telling women it’s not only OK to eat low-mercury fish, but that it’s important.
As NPR’s The Salt reports, the new advice suggests women get eight to 12 ounces of fish per week, or two to three servings. Young children should also get two to three servings, according to the agency.
They say the benefits outweigh the risks in mercury levels of fish like canned light tuna, salmon, tilapia, and cod.
“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,” said Stephen Ostroff, acting chief scientist of the FDA.
These nutrients include omega-3 fats, important in brain and heart health, as well as reduced cancer risk, among other benefits.
“Importantly, the new FDA draft advice makes it clear that canned light tuna is recommended as a safe source of fish for pregnant women,” says pediatrician and author Laura Jana. “In terms of convenience, this is great news … it requires no advance planning and is unquestionably simple to prepare – from tuna sandwiches to Tuna Tetrazzini or simply putting it atop a salad.”
The FDA still cautions against shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico. They advise to limit consumption of white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week.
For at least some of the mothers abstaining from fish, mercury isn’t likely to be the only thing on their minds. A recent study indicated nuclear spills from the 2011 Fukushima disaster may be contributing to rising radiation levels in fish caught off the Oregon coast. Interestingly, albacore tuna was one of the varieties with the most significant radiation increases.
As always, it’s important to weigh the benefits and risks, so be sure to limit consumption and consume other foods rich in omega-3 fats. Or better yet, consume foods rich in omega 3 fats that also have radiation-protective properties!