FDA Updates Recommendation On Eating Fish (Even Pregnant Women)

New guidelines from the FDA recommend that people consume more fish - even by pregnant women and nursing mothers. This is the first time that the government is actually setting a minimum amount of fish that should be consumed.

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Fish have great nutritional value – they are packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. The American Heart Association recommends at least two meals of fish each week to promote heart health. And fish have Omega-3 fatty acids that help heart and brain health.

There’s also some evidence that Omega-3 fatty acids enhance bone health, but it may be in how other nutrients combine with the Omega-3 fatty acids. For example, some dietary fat helps the body absorb vitamin K more efficiently, and vitamin K is essential for better bone health.

The two major types of Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are EPA and DHA. Other foods also contain healthful DHA omega-3 fatty acids, including flax seed. But plant-based DHA isn't used as efficiently by the body as DHA found in fish. So if you supplement it is probably advisable to select fish oil instead of flaxseed oil fatty acid.

Fish are also a rich source of vitamin D, but the vitamin D content varies significantly among different varieties. Salmon is one of the richest in vitamin D, but farm raised salmon only has one quarter the amount of vitamin D as wild salmon.

Also, the vitamin D is more available when fish is baked instead of fried because frying may decrease the vitamin D by up to 50%. Other fish that are safe and provide vitamin D are trout, tuna and shrimp, but almost all fish have some vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Mackerel is a fatty fish that has vitamin D but mackerel may also contain higher amounts of mercury than other fish. Mercury should be avoided as much as possible, especially by pregnant and nursing mothers. The longer a fish lives and the larger it grows, the more mercury it tends to contain. The guidelines single out four fish to avoid because they are high in mercury—shark, swordfish, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico and king mackerel. Unfortunately when the FDA advised pregnant women to reduce their fish intake back in 2004, many just stopped eating it altogether.

The new FDA guidelines emphasize that the benefits of eating fish generally outweigh the possible harms even for pregnant and nursing women. "The nutritional value of fish is important during growth and development before birth, in early infancy for breast-fed infants, and in childhood," the FDA says. There are many fish that are healthy to eat and some common ones are salmon, tilapia, catfish, cod, shrimp, pollock, and canned light tuna.

Increased fish consumption is a major component of the Mediterranean diet along with high consumption of whole cereals, fruits, vegetables, olive oil and low consumption of meat and meat products along with modest consumption of cheese and yogurt. So, make sure you add fish to your regular diet at least twice a week and maybe more.

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