Frequently mislabeled a high mercury fish, white albacore tuna was added to the fish advisory out of concern it was a frequently eaten fish and therefore limited eating to 6 ounces weekly during pregnancy.
Each wholesome and nutritious meal you eat before, during and after pregnancy goes a long way towards ensuring a healthy and bright future for you and your baby. Including good-for-you fish, like canned or pouched tuna, in your diet is one of the smartest and easiest food choices you can make.
Fish is packed with the vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy fats called omega-3 fatty acids that moms need for healthy pregnancies and that babies need for their best possible growth and development.
The lean protein, vitamins and minerals found in fish are good for everyone. But moms-to-be and their babies especially benefit from eating fish because it contains a healthy fat called DHA omega-3s. These special omega-3s help babies’ brains and eyes develop normally and may help moms to prevent and manage a type of depression called post-partum depression. The best natural source of DHA omega-3 is oily fish like canned and pouched tuna.
If you are planning on becoming pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding:
Healthy pregnancies begin with healthy moms-to-be. Eating a nutritious diet that includes fish at least twice a week can help you get in shape for the upcoming 9 months ahead.
Moms-to-be benefit by eating fish because it:
Obstetricians and nutritionists agree that eating the recommended 12 ounces of DHA-rich seafood per week during pregnancy has numerous health benefits for both you and baby, which include:
After Baby Is Born:
If you breastfeed, the nutrients in your diet get passed down to your baby. Providing your little one with nutritious breast milk is the most important thing you can do to help him reach his optimal development potential. Choosing to include omega-3 rich seafood in your diet during this time is a healthy choice for you and baby because it:
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Government and public health agencies agree that eating seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as canned and pouched tuna, during pregnancy is beneficial to the health of pregnant women and their babies. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other important nutrients like selenium, are low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 DHA (a nutrient that is vital to the healthy development of baby’s eyes and brain and important for mom’s health before, during and after pregnancy, too).
Science shows that the benefits of eating fish and shellfish if you are pregnant, planning on becoming pregnant, or breastfeeding far outweigh any reason not to enjoy seafood during this time. However, some recent news reports about trace amounts of mercury found in seafood have some consumers, especially pregnant women confused.
Although mercury has always existed in small amounts in fish and other foods, mercury toxicity from normal fish consumption has never been documented. One possible explanation for this comes from emerging research, which shows selenium – a healthy mineral found in abundance in fish – may bind with mercury and neutralize its effects. Out of caution the FDA has suggested that pregnant women avoid four specific fish that tend to have higher levels of mercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
Current recommendations from U.S. government and other health experts include eating a variety of 12 ounces (about 2-3 servings) of cooked omega-3 rich seafood per week. Some great choices include salmon, sardines, scallops or canned light tuna. And, if you like, up to 6 ounces each week can be albacore (white) tuna.
Government Agencies on Seafood During Pregnancy:
Women Infants and Children (WIC)
The WIC program provides low-income, pregnant women and children (up to the age of 5) with food packages that help these families meet their nutritional needs. In 2007 WIC changed the contents of these packages to better meet the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and infant feeding practice guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics. One important change included increasing the monthly amount of fish available to 30 ounces of canned fish. Many varieties are now offered including light tuna, salmon and sardines.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
USDA’s MyPyramid for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women choose foods from each food group that provide the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy pregnancy. From the meat and beans group, pregnant and breastfeeding women should choose fish such as halibut, cod, rainbow trout, herring, sardines, rockfish and yellowfin tuna. The USDA suggests avoiding shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish during pregnancy or breastfeeding because they contain higher levels of mercury.
Food and Drug Administration/ Environmental Protection Agency (FDA/EPA)
The FDA and EPA believe fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet because seafood is high in protein but low in saturated fat, and contains essential nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids. In their summary report, What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish, they list the following three recommendations:
"Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development. So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits."
— U.S. Food and Drug Administration & U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC reports that a few foods including four types of fish, some soft cheeses, ready-to-eat meats and raw sprouts may pose a risk to pregnant women and their babies. Specifically, women should avoid four fish higher in mercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. However, eating up to 12 ounces a week of most preferred commercial seafoods – shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish and canned light tuna – is safe and healthy. In one week women can eat up to 6 ounces of albacore (white) tuna if they wish.
Pregnant women should avoid eating refrigerated smoked seafood (unless it is an ingredient in a cooked dish such as a casserole) to prevent a bacterial infection called listeriosis. It is safe to eat canned fish such as salmon and tuna or shelf-stable smoked seafood.
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)
NHANES is an ongoing study conducted by CDC departments that provides a "snapshot" of the health and nutritional status of the U.S. population by collecting information about what people eat and their health problems. People who participate in the study come from all over the U.S. and range in age from infants to seniors. The most recent information from NHANES shows that 90 percent of all women eat less than the FDA-recommended amount of 12 ounces of fish per week.
Public Health Organizations On Seafood During Pregnancy:
The American Diabetes Association (ADA)
The American Diabetes Association recommends that women with a history of gestational diabetes make healthy food choices by including more fish, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dry beans, whole grains and low-fat dairy and fewer processed or foods high in saturated fat in order to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes later in life.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA)
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) and Dietitians of Canada (DC) recommend a food-based approach for achieving omega-3 fatty acid recommendations. This includes a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, lean protein and fish (especially fatty fish high in n-3 fatty acids).
The American Heart Association (AHA)
The American Heart Association recommends that healthy people without heart disease eat fish (particularly fatty fish like canned or pouched tuna) at least two times a week.
The National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition
The National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition reports that seafood, especially oily fish like canned and pouched tuna, provides nutritional value before, during and after pregnancy. It is an important source of protein, vitamins and minerals and omega-3 fatty acids that mothers need for healthy pregnancies and babies need for growth and development.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommends eating fish because of its excellent nutritional value, which provides high quality protein and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. These include vitamins A and D, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium and iodine.
The FAO also reports that oily fish, such as canned and pouched tuna, are the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids. And, omega-3s are vital to normal brain development in unborn babies and infants. The FAO states that adequate amounts of these fatty acids are necessary for normal brain development to take place.
The Child and Family Research Institute
A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – conducted by the Child and Family Research Institute – found that women who ate little fish (but lots of meat) were lacking in omega-3 fatty acids. Infants from mothers without adequate levels of omega-3s didn’t do as well on eye tests as from mothers who had plenty of omega-3s. The results were seen in infants as young as 2 months of age.
"Fish is an excellent source of high-quality protein and other nutrients. But we also incorporate the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisories, telling pregnant women they should not eat certain fish with high levels of mercury during pregnancy. That includes shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish."
— American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists