Should pregnant women eat fish? ‘Thoughtful’ choices can provide benefits, study suggests

grilled fish and vegetables

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Cincinnati – The health benefits of eating fish may outweigh the potential risks of low-level mercury exposure for women who are pregnant, according to a recent study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Researchers analyzed the behavior of nearly 350 infants and compared it with mothers’ fish consumption during pregnancy. Infants whose mothers ate more fish showed better attention and required less special handling during a newborn exam. Eighty-four percent of mothers said they ate fish during pregnancy, although they averaged only 2 ounces of fish per week.

Fish contains mercury, and high levels of mercury in a pregnant woman’s bloodstream may harm a developing baby. However, fish also contain protein, iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and other important nutrients, researchers said.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency updated their guidance in 2014 to recommend that pregnant women eat 8 to 12 ounces of fish per week – more than previously suggested. Both groups encourage women to eat fish with the lowest mercury levels.

“The important thing for women to remember is that fish offers excellent nutritional qualities that can benefit a developing baby or young child,” study author Kim Yolton said in a press release. “Moms just need to be thoughtful about which fish they eat or provide to their child.”

Researchers said fish with the lowest mercury levels include salmon, shrimp, pollock, light canned tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod. Pregnant women should avoid fish with the highest mercury levels, including tilefish, shark, swordfish and mackerel.

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