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FDA Revises Previous Advice, Says Pregnant Women Should Eat More Fish

Jun 12, 2014

Contrary to its advice in 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that pregnant women should eat more fish, as long as it is not the kind that are high in mercury. LA Times reports that on Tuesday, the agency issued an updated report with the Environmental Protection Agency stating that pregnant women, breast-feeding women and young children can gain important health benefits by eating fish with low levels of mercury. This includes fish such as salmon, trout, anchovies and sardines, which have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Pregnant and breast-feeding women can also safely consume Pollock, shrimp, tilapia, catfish, cod and canned light tuna.

The updated guidelines did not prompt new labeling procedures, but the FDA recommended that women eat between eight and 12 ounces of variety seafood weekly. White tuna, which generally has three times more mercury than light tuna, could be limited to six ounces a week. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should avoid shark, swordfish and king mackerel, as well as tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and other large, predatory fish linked to high mercury levels.

This is the first time that the FDA has recommended a minimum amount of fish for pregnant women, breast-feeding women and young children. In the past, the agency has only identified a maximum amount. The update advice coincides with its 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans, LA Times reports. Dr. Roger W. Harms, a pregnancy specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Min wrote “Seafood can be a great source of protein, iron and zinc — crucial nutrients for your baby's growth and development… In addition, the omega-3 fatty acids in many fish can promote your baby's brain development." according to LA Times.

Some consumers groups feel that the update guidelines are lacking. The Mercury Policy Project, for instance, said it was disappointed that the FDA did not require labeling to address the risk of mercury from canned tuna. "Over one-third of Americans' exposure to methlymercury is from tuna, because tuna are higher-mercury fish and Americans consume so much," said director Michael Bender to WSJ. "Albacore 'white' canned tuna generally has three times as much mercury as 'light' tuna. However, Americans consume about three times as much of the light variety…Therefore, each variety — white and light — contributes a staggering 16% of Americans' dietary exposure."

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