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FDA Says Pregnant Women Should Eat Fish Low in Mercury

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Earlier this month the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency announced for the first time ever there is now a minimum on how much fish a pregnant woman should eat every week. 

There is a common misconception that women should eat little to no fish during pregnancy because of high mercury levels.  Although many fish do in fact contain mercury, the FDA and EPA says the levels in most fish would not harm a child or fetus.  This is the FDA’s acting chief scientist Dr. Stephen Ostroff.

“Women who are or may become pregnant, those who are breast feeding, and young children can gain important health benefits from eating fish. For the first time, the FDA and EPA are advising women in this group to eat a minimum amount of fish. Eat at least eight and up to 12 ounces a week of fish that is low in mercury.”

Vice president of communications at the National Fisheries Institute Gavin Gibbons says this is an important announcement from the FDA.  He says the nutrients and vitamins found in seafood and fish is vital to a child’s growth and development, both before and after birth. 

“Seafood contains a lot of nutrients including vitamin D and selenium. But the big one that everyone talks about is Omega threes. And Omega threes are really important to babies eye and brain development. One of the things the FDA is concerned about is pregnant women who are scared off of eating seafood won’t give their children the optimum chance to develop their eyes and brain the way they would have if they did eat at least 8-12 ounces of seafood a week which is between 2 and 3 meals a week.”

24 year old Nicole Humenick is four months pregnant with her second child.  She said when she was pregnant with her first son, she didn’t know about the mercury in fish.  However, now she is trying to be very aware.

“Yes I have heard that. With this pregnancy I am trying to eat as healthy as possible. I was trying to do some research about what kind of fish I was allowed to eat and it’s all very confusing to me so I just have been staying away from fish because I’m scared now.”

After she heard about the FDA’s new fish minimum recommendation, she says she will reconsider her hesitance to eat fish.

“It will probably make me a little less nervous to consume fish. Apparently there’s health benefits, they’re saying now, to eating fish now while you’re pregnant is actually good for the baby’s health and what not. So yeah, I’ll definitely fish it up.”

Lake Clark National Park led a study to calculate the amount of mercury in the water and fish in the park.  Chief of resources for Lake Clark National Park Jeff Shearer says the researchers found the levels of mercury climbing in fish over the past four or five years.  He says the mercury isn’t at a concerning level yet and he thinks there isn’t just one cause.

“We can certainly speculate and come up with some very educated guesses. We know there are various sources of mercury in the environment, whether it’s natural sources coming from erosion, forest fires, but there’s also human caused sources mostly combustion of fossil fuels.”

Shearer says lake trout, northern pike and other fish on the top of the food chain are the ones that have higher levels of mercury.  The FDA and EPA report that shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod usually have lower mercury levels and therefore are safe for pregnant women. 

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