There are always two sides to every story, right? The yin and yang, so to speak. Such is the case when it comes to fish consumption and pregnancy and/or breastfeeding.
On one hand, you read warnings that eating too much fish can contribute to mercury toxicity; on the other hand you’ve read about all the many benefits of Omega-3s – also called DHA – which include healthy fetal brain development and decreased risk of depression.
DO Eat Fish From the “Healthy” List
These days, health professionals agree: the health benefits of eating fish on a regular basis – especially while pregnant – far outweigh any negative side effects as the result of mercury toxicity. The key is to pay attention to the fish listed on the EPA’s, What to Eat and What Not to Eat List.
Fish on the “Safe” list include:
- Canned light tuna
These seafood items are associated with lower mercury levels.
Fish on the “Unsafe list” include:
- Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
- King mackerel
These fish are all associated with high mercury levels.
Here’s what the American Society for Nutrition has to say about eating fish while pregnant or breastfeeding:
Fish contains essential nutrients proven to have beneficial effects on brain neurodevelopment and may prevent cardiovascular disease. These benefits have been attributed in part to the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), but in addition seafood is a good source of protein, selenium, iron, iodine, choline, and vitamins E and D. These LCPUFAs are essential throughout pregnancy but are critical from the beginning of the third trimester until about 18 months after birth when the human brain is growing the fastest. Neglecting to supply LCPUFA among other nutrients during this period may result in deficits in brain development.
That statement is based on studies like the most recent one, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. After reviewing fish consumption in roughly 2000 pregnant women, who cataloged how much and which types of fish they consumed each week, researchers found a direct correlation between healthy fish intake and healthy fetal brain development – as well as decreased symptoms of autism or disorders found on the Asberger’s/autistic spectrum.
Most of the women ate an average of three servings of fish per week. During labor and delivery, the baby’s umbilical cord was tested for the presence of and/or mercury levels, as well as omega-3 fatty acid levels. Then, babies were assessed at 14-weeks and again at 5-years to evaluate cognitive development as well as where their symptoms rated along the Autistic Spectrum. The correlations between fish consumption and and the babies’ cognitive function were impressive.
Researchers found that the more seafood the women ate during the week, the higher their babies IQ points, and the fewer autistic spectrum symptoms the babies displayed. There was a similar correlation made for fatty fish consumption – like tuna – and higher IQ/decreased symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders. This latter finding is especially interesting since those same fatty fishes tend to have the highest mercury levels within the “safe zone.”
Eat at Least Three Servings of Fish Per Week
As a result of these findings, and similar findings from prior studies, healthcare professionals want to get the word out to pregnant and breastfeeding women. A conscientious approach to what you eat during pregnancy is admirable, but avoiding fish in fear of mercury poisoning seems to be the wrong route to take.
Instead, the study’s co-author – Jordi Julvez – points out that consuming adequate levels of DHA during pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding has a notably positive impact on baby’s brain development. Eating two- to three-servings per week, pulling from the EPA’s healthy fish list – and prioritizing a serving of fatty tuna and salmon here and there – is recommended.
Looking for a pregnancy healthcare provider who can keep you and your baby’s health headed in the right direction? Schedule an appointment with us here at Overlake.