Diet during pregnancy is a conundrum for
every woman who is expecting. One of the major confusing points is whether to
eat fish or not.
In fact, conflicting reports about safe
levels of mercury in fish have a majority of pregnant women eliminating the
food from their diet altogether.
In a recent study, Nancy Childs, Ph.D.,
professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia and
research colleagues, warned this decreased consumption of fish among
childbearing, pregnant and lactating women, and young children is likely to
have detrimental consequences to public health.
"It is conservatively estimated that 73
percent, or two million women, may not be consuming enough low-mercury fish
during their pregnancy," notes Childs. "By decreasing the amount of fish they
eat, rather than just minimizing their consumption of the large fish, pregnant
women are missing the advantages of this low fat, high protein component of a
"There is much evidence that the
consumption of fish, in particular, the n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids,
reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease," she continues. "Fish is also
beneficial to the cognitive development of the fetal and infant brain."
In 2004, the Environmental Protection
Agency and the Food and Drug Administration issued a joint advisory to pregnant
and nursing women warning that excessive consumption of high mercury fish can
have dangerous neurological consequences to infants and young children.
Methylmercury, the toxic metal found in all fish, is present at the highest
levels among swordfish, shark, bluefin mackerel, tilefish and tuna.
"It's really about which fish, how much is
eaten, and who is consuming the fish that's important. The ideal message will
encourage the replacement of high mercury fish with low mercury fish," says
Childs. "And until a multi-agency sophisticated consumer communication is developed,
health professionals need to be diligent in educating their patients on fish