Pregnant? Learn about Health Benefits of Fish
Pregnant women may eat up to 12 ounces, or two average meals a week, of fish considered to be lower in mercury
Concerns about mercury and lack of awareness of the prenatal benefits of eating fish may cause pregnant women to avoid fish altogether and miss out on important nutrients for the health of their fetus. A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests the need for a campaign to educate expecting moms on how much fish to eat and which types of fish are lower in mercury and higher in fatty acids.
Women need to hear about healthy benefits of fish
Prior studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids - found abundantly in fish - are important for the health of developing fetuses. However, because women are also advised to limit fish due to contaminants such as mercury, which may harm the fetus, many pregnant women avoid fish entirely.
In this study, 22 pregnant women who ate less than two servings of fish per week were surveyed in focus groups about their knowledge of the health effects and risks of eating fish, advice they had received about eating fish, how much and what types of fish they ate, and other questions about their knowledge and dietary behaviors. Results showed:
The study results suggest that women should be counseled about the risks as well as the benefits of eating fish and participants suggested that a ready source of information, such as a wallet card with which type of fish to eat and which to avoid. "Pregnant women who infrequently consume fish might be willing to eat more fish if they received advice to eat some fish from their obstetrician or other sources and if they had a clear, readily accessible source of information regarding which fish types are safe to eat during pregnancy," said Arienne Bloomingdale, lead study author, and her colleagues from the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
Moderation is important
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that "fish and shellfish are good sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients" but also warns against eating too much fish and eating fish that is higher in mercury, which may harm the fetus. They offer the following guidelines:
New information about the benefits and risks of eating fish continues to appear in the scientific literature, so women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should discuss emerging information with an informed physician.
(Am J Clin Nutr doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.30070; "Nutrition During Pregnancy," American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp001.cfm, accessed on September 26, 2010)
Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.