FDA updates its guidelines on fish and pregnancy. We decode them.


To eat fish or not? That is the question

There’s no doubt you have heard many opinions on eating fish during pregnancy. Everyone from your doctor to your mother seems to have an opinion. Why should you eat fish during pregnancy? After all, too much methylmercury contained in fish can cause birth defects and affect the growing baby’s brain. However, due to the many benefits of eating fish, the USA Federal Drug Administration sought out to simplify recommendations. Now, the government agency defines species of fish–and their safety levels–by categories.

In January 2017, the FDA revised its recommendations, making them easier to follow for parents-to-be. The FDA now issues advice on consumption for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and parents of young children, all in an effort to encourage safe fish-eating.

So why revise the recommendations on fish during pregnancy?

Pregnant women were scared away from eating fish in the past. In a survey conducted in 2005, moms-to-be were only eating 1.8 ounce of fish per week. In doing so, they missed out on the host of healthful benefits fish can provide both moms and babies. These women reported that the official recommendations either didn’t advise enough on specific fish or limited consumption to one serving size of tuna. All in all, the FDA’s previous recommendations were tough to follow.

The new recommendations are simple and encourage safe fish consumption. In these updated guidelines, the FDA advises 2-3 servings, or 8-12 ounces, per week. These new guidelines give pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and parents of young children a variety of fish to choose from–and make the information easily accessible and understandable.

What are the new recommendations?

The old recommendation was to eat up to 12 ounces each week of commercially available fish. It limited white (albacore) tuna to 4 ounces and avoided tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. The revised advice is helpful and easier to follow. Now, the recommendations include three categories of commercially grown fish based on mercury levels–best choice, good choice, and those to avoid.

What serving size to choose?

Pregnant women can choose their serving size based on the category of fish they want to eat. A serving size for adults is 4 ounces. Are you are wondering what 4ounces looks like? Just look at the palm of your hand. If you choose from the best choice fish, then 2-3 servings a week is advisable. Enjoy the good fish choice with just 1 serving per week. The last choice has the highest mercury level and is best to avoid altogether while pregnant and nursing.

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