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Pregnant, Breastfeeding Women Should Eat More Fish, Guidelines Say

Pregnant, Breastfeeding Women Should Eat More Fish, Guidelines Say

June 12, 2014 — Pregnant or breastfeeding women and young children should eat two to three servings of fish that is low in mercury per week, according to draft guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency and FDA, USA Today reports (Szabo, USA Today, 6/10).

Previous federal guidelines focused on the maximum amount of fish those groups could safely consume but did not suggest a minimum amount (Sacks, Los Angeles Times, 6/10). Too much mercury can cause neurological damage, particularly to developing brains, but "so many women ... are missing out on the benefits" of eating fish with lower mercury content, EPA's Elizabeth Southerland said. An FDA analysis found that 21% of pregnant women did not eat any fish in the previous month (USA Today, 6/10).

In addition, the protein, iron and zinc in seafood are "crucial" for a fetus' "growth and development," and the omega-3 fatty acids in many fish help promote brain development, according to Roger Harms, a pregnancy specialist at Mayo Clinic (Los Angeles Times, 6/10).

Which Fish To Eat, Avoid

Of the fish most frequently sold in the U.S., nine out of 10 varieties -- including salmon, shrimp, catfish and canned light tuna -- are lower in mercury, according to Stephen Ostroff, acting chief scientist at FDA (USA Today, 6/10). Pollock, tilapia and cod are also safe choices.

The draft advice, released on Tuesday, recommends pregnant or breastfeeding women and young children avoid fish that are high in mercury -- swordfish, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark and king mackerel -- and limit weekly consumption of white tuna, also called albacore, to six ounces.

Some consumer groups expressed disappointment with the agencies for not also requiring labeling of food containing mercury, the Washington Post reports (Dennis, Washington Post, 6/11).