FDA Updates Advice on Eating Fish for Pregnant Women, Children
Megan Brooks, July 03, 2019
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated advice on fish consumption for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, breastfeeding mothers, and young children, putting more focus on the health benefits of seafood.
"Fish and shellfish are an important part of a well-rounded diet. However, we know many parents worry about mercury in fish and even choose to limit or avoid fish because of this concern. In fact, women in the US who are pregnant are consuming far less than the recommended amount of seafood," Susan Mayne, PhD, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a news release.
"Our goal is to make sure Americans are equipped with this knowledge so that they can reap the benefits of eating fish, while choosing types of fish that are safe for them and their families to eat," said Mayne.
In January 2017, the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a reference chart to help consumers more easily understand the types of fish to eat more or less of, based on their mercury levels.
The information in the chart remains the same. However, the revised advice issued July 2 expands information regarding the benefits of fish as part of a healthy diet by promoting the science-based recommendations of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The advice pertains to people aged 2 and older.
"While it is important to limit mercury in the diets of women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and young children, many types of fish are both nutritious and lower in mercury," the FDA said in the update.
"The revised advice highlights the many nutritional components in fish, many of which have important roles in growth and development during pregnancy and early childhood. It also highlights the potential health benefits of eating fish as part of a healthy eating pattern, particularly for heart health benefits and lowering the risk of obesity," the FDA said.
Fish provides protein; healthy omega-3 fats; more vitamin B12 and vitamin D than any other type of food; iron, which is important for infants, young children, and women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant; and other minerals such as selenium, zinc, and iodine, the FDA notes.
Last month, the FDA announced it would allow certain "qualified" health claims stating that consuming eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids in food or dietary supplements may reduce the risk of hypertension and coronary heart disease.
The FDA continues to recommend that adults eat at least 8 ounces of seafood per week based on a 2000 calorie diet.
For an adult, one serving is 4 ounces (about the size and thickness of an adult's palm). Adults should eat two to three servings a week from the "Best Choices" list (or one serving from the "Good Choices" list). For children, one serving is 1 ounce at age 2 and increases with age to 4 ounces by age 11.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consume between 8 and 12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week from choices that are lower in mercury.
The 36 types of seafood on the best choices list include salmon, shrimp, pollock, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod, flounder, haddock, crab, clams, and sole. Nineteen varieties make the good choices list and include bluefish, halibut, mahi mahi, grouper, monkfish, rockfish, snapper, and striped bass (ocean).
The FDA recommends that everyone avoid seven fish that may be high in mercury: king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish (Gulf of Mexico), and bigeye tuna.
The updated advisory also cautions that some fish caught by family and friends, such as larger carp, catfish, trout, and perch, may contain unknown amounts of mercury or other contaminants. It advises checking local advisories for information on how often it's safe to eat those fish. If there is no advisory, the FDA advises eating only one serving and no other fish that week.