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Published on January 23, 2017

healthy salmon meal

Fish Facts: Nursing Moms and Moms-To-Be Can Enjoy More Seafood Safely

Delicious fish and seafood – hopefully it’s on your shopping list. We’re all supposed to eat more because it offers lean protein, healthy oils and packs an ocean’s worth of vital nutrients.

Moms-to-be and women who are breastfeeding might love a tender tuna filet, but they’ve also heard the warnings about mercury in fish and its potential for harm to developing children.

New information available gives us some concrete facts about this predicament.

Avera Medical Group Obstetrics & Gynecology physician Dawn Boender, MD, said the new, super-helpful guidelines recently shared by the Food and Drug Administration are something she’s already printing out and sharing with women in her Mitchell office.

“Fish is a good source of protein, and this information will help moms who may have had worries about what fish is best. It spells out clearly how much is too much and what needs to be avoided. Fish is a food that we don't want women to omit altogether, because it offers so many good nutrients,” Boender said. “We have known about the issues of mercury levels in certain fish for some time, and this guide is a good way to clarify the topic and should help moms approach consuming fish and seafood with more confidence.”

Mercury exposure can lead to brain damage as well as hearing and vision problems in the developing fetus or in newborns who are nursing. The meat of larger fish, such as swordfish, has long been suspect because these fish tend to store an organic form of this toxic metal in their muscles and organs.

Boender said the fear of mercury leads women to avoid it. In doing so, they are leaving important nutrients out of their diets.

“DHA is a nutrient that is very important for pregnant women, and it’s found in abundance in many of the “best choices” fish and seafood on the guidelines,” she said. “Like any nutrient, it’s best to get it directly from a food source, not a supplement.”

The new guidelines include best choice-species such as flounder and herring, as well as lobster and oysters. Women are encouraged to consume two to three 4-ounce servings of those choices each week. Good choice fish include halibut, Chilean sea bass and tuna, but Boender reminds you to be picky when picking your can or foil pouch.

“Canned light tuna makes the list as a best choice, but canned white ‘regular’ tuna is not, so it’s a good idea to stick to canned light,” she said. “Remember too, that how the fish is cooked is important. Stick to grilling and broiling to maintain the nutrients and avoid adding fat.”

She also said the FDA website included a number of Q&A sections that were informative and can help women get their nutrients from seafood and fish in a safe manner.

“The main point is this information shows you can eat more of these excellent and nutritious protein sources and not have fear, so we hope women will use these guidelines,” she said. “We also remind women who enjoy fish caught in local lakes and rivers to check with their state or regional advisories to get insight on any suggested restrictions or unsafe levels of mercury.”

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