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Government issues new guidelines as safety net for fish consumption

When eating fish caught from local streams, rivers and lakes, follow fish advisories from local authorities.
When eating fish caught from local streams, rivers and lakes, follow fish advisories from local authorities.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

“For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children,” said Stephen Ostroff, M.D., the FDA’s acting chief scientist. “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.”
As a result. The FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have issued a joint draft updating advice on fish consumption. The two agencies have concluded pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who might become pregnant, and young children should eat more fish that is lower in mercury in order to gain important developmental and health benefits.

While the two agencies had previously recommended maximum amounts of fish that should be eaten by the above population groups, they did not promote a minimum amount. Over the past decade, however, emerging science has underscored the importance of appropriate amounts of fish in the diets of pregnant and breastfeeding women, and young children.

Analysis made by FDA researchers regarding the consumption of seafood by approximately 1,000 pregnant women in the US found that 21% ate no fish in the previous month, and those who ate fish ate far less than the (2010) Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends. In addition, 50% were found to eat less than 2 ounces a week, and 75% ate under than 4 ounces a week. The draft updated advice recommends pregnant women eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces (2-3 servings) per week of a variety of fish that are lower in mercury to support fetal growth and development.

“Eating fish with lower levels of mercury provides numerous health and dietary benefits,” said 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.”

In the meantime, the draft warns pregnant or nursing women to avoid four types of fish that are associated with high mercury levels: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico; shark; swordfish; and king mackerel. It also cautions them not to eat more than 6 ounces of albacore (white) tuna per week, although canned light tuna is recommended. Other fish found to be low in mercury include talapia, pollock, salmon, catfish, cod and shrimp.

Note: Women and children who consume fish caught in local rivers, streams and lakes should follow guidelines from local health authorities. However, to be on the safe side, they should simply limit their intake to about 6 ounces for adults, and 1-3 ounces of fish for children per week.
When eating fish caught from local streams, rivers and lakes, follow fish advisories from local authorities. If advice isn’t available, limit your total intake of such fish to 6 ounces a week and 1-3 ounces for children.