Mercury in fish

fish for dinnerYou may have heard it’s important to eat fish.  But then again, you may have heard fish can be dangerous, don’t eat it when you’re pregnant.  What’s the deal with that?

Fish is an easy-to-prepare food. It is high in protein, low in fat and full of heart-healthy nutrients. But pollution in our oceans, lakes, rivers and streams is leaving some fish with toxic levels of mercury, which is especially damaging to fetuses, babies and children.

If a woman is exposed to high levels of mercury before or while she is pregnant, her health and the baby’s health are threatened. High levels of mercury can cause brain damage and affect a baby’s hearing and vision.

So, how much fish can a pregnant woman safely eat?  To start with, you should not eat fish that can be high in mercury, like shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. But you can safely eat up to 12 ounces a week of shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish and canned light tuna. It’s also OK to eat 6 ounces a week of albacore (white) tuna. All fish should be cooked to avoid any possible parasites or bacteria so, if you’re pregnant, skip the raw oysters, sushi and sashimi for now.

By following these guidelines, you can obtain the health benefits of eating fish, while reducing your baby’s exposure to mercury.

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4 Responses to “Mercury in fish”

  1. Emily Schroder Says:

    Thank you for making this. As a maternal health nurse, who does home visits to educate pregnant moms about healthy behaviors, it’s nice to be able to give them this information in a concrete fashion that is credible. Thank you for all you(March of Dimes) do!

  2. Lindsay Says:

    Emily – Thanks for your kind words and keep up the great work! — Lindsay

  3. Rima Kleiner, MS, RD Says:

    As a registered dietitian, I appreciate that you encourage pregnant women to eat fish. However, I am concerned that there is some misinformation within this article regarding mercury. Mercury occurs naturally in fish and some fish accumulate mercury in high amounts, such as the four that pregnant and lactating women and young children should avoid—tilefish, king mackerel, shark and swordfish. All other cooked fish is safe to consume during pregnancy, and fish should be consumed during pregnancy.

    Seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital to a baby’s neurodevelopment and cognitive function. Studies have shown that pregnant women eat too little fish as it is—and in the face of confusion or fear-mongering avoid fish altogether. The bottom line is that pregnant women can—and should—enjoy cooked fish (except the four previously mentioned) safely for their—and baby’s—health.

  4. Lindsay Says:

    Hi Rima – Thanks for your comments. We agree with you that eating fish has many health benefits and pregnant women should not avoid it. But it’s important to know what and how much is safe, which is why we wrote the article.

    In theory it sounds right, but actually not all fish is considered safe. Some fish in local lakes and streams, like trout and bass known as game fish, may have picked up pollutants. So for people who like to fish locally, they should check with the local health department to learn what’s safe to eat and what’s not.

    Yes, there are many benefits to eating fish and we think it’s a great part of a healthy diet. The USDA, however, recommends that pregnant women limit their fish consumption to 12 ounces of a variety of cooked fish per week.