New Guidelines Make It Easier for Pregnant Women to Eat Fish


Pregnant women, and those who plan to become pregnant, aren’t eating enough fish.

Fish is fortified with essential vitamins and minerals and should be part of everyone’s diet. But pregnant women often avoid it with good intentions. Fish contains mercury, which can be harmful to the brain and nervous system if consumed in large amounts over time.

Credit: David Schiersner/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

So, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have teamed up to make it easier for pregnant women to make informed choices about consuming fish. The agencies have created new fish consumption outlines that detail which types of fish have higher levels of mercury, and which types are safer to eat.

You can check out the guidelines by clicking here. Fish that contain lower levels of mercury include shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod.

Fish that contain high levels of mercury are tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, orange roughy, bigeye tuna, marlin and king mackerel.

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“Fish are an important source of protein and other nutrients for young children and women who are or may become pregnant, or are breastfeeding,” said FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Dr. Stephen Ostroff. “This new, clear and concrete advice is an excellent tool for making safe and healthy choices when eating fish.”

Credit: Kai Hendry/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

A recent FDA analysis showed that half of all pregnant women are eating less than two ounces of fish per week. This falls far short of the agency’s advice of two to three servings of lower-mercury fish per week for a total of 8 to 12 ounces.

The guidelines list 62 different types of fish and put them into three categories: Best choices, good choices, and choices to avoid.

“It’s all about eating and enjoying fish of the right kind and in the right amounts,” said the EPA Director for Water Science and Technology, Elizabeth Southerland. “This joint advice not only provides information for fish consumers who buy from local markets, but it also contains good information for people who catch their own fish or are provided fish caught by friends or relatives.”

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People who catch their own fish recreationally need to be aware of the condition of waterways from which they are fishing. They can check for local EPA advisories by clicking here.

“If no information on fishing advisories is available, eat just one fish meal a week from local waters and also, avoid other fish that week,” the EPA and FDA warn in a news release. “Consumers should clean and trim the fish they catch of fat and skin since locally caught fish may contain contaminants besides mercury that can be reduced by proper trimming and cooking (e.g. broiling instead of frying can reduce some contaminants by letting fat drip away from the fish).”

Both agencies are urging retailers such as grocers and restaurants to post the guidelines.