Fish Consumption: FDA Issues Surprising Draft Guidance for Women & Kids

light tuna

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) have  issued a draft of updated recommendations on the consumption of fish for childbearing women and children.

In 2004, the FDA’s recommendation was to limit the consumption of large fish by children and women while pregnant or lactating. The reasoning was simple. Large fish may be contaminated with mercury, a toxin that messes with neural development. Big fish accumulate mercury over time because they live a long time. Small fish are caught and eaten before their bodies accumulate alarming amounts of mercury.

The new recommendations are a sort of reversal of past advice, with the FDA encouraging pregnant women to consume MORE fish, albeit not the big ones. Consumer groups were hoping that the FDA would double down on the limitations and also would require labeling of products that may contain high amounts of mercury. The FDA is now recommending a MINIMUM weekly consumption goal, instead of just a cap:

FDA recommends pregnant women eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces (2-3 servings) per week of a variety of fish that are lower in mercury to support fetal growth and development. Read more…

On the one hand, many big fish such as tuna are high in Omega-3s, which aid in brain development. On the other hand, there is the mercury problem. The smaller fish are mercury free and provide various health benefits, but sadly, not a high amount of Omega-3s.

What’s a mom-to-be to do?

Our recommendations for choosing tuna:

  • Choose light tuna (Skipjack, Bluefin, Yellowfin, Ahi)
  • Stay away from white tuna (Albacore, Longfin). Light tuna has just one third the amount of mercury as white tuna
  • Always prefer tuna packed in water, not oil
  • For kids under the age of 8, limit tuna consumption to once a month
  • For older children – twice a month is fine.
  • Sara

    If omega-3 is the nutrient the FDA wants pregnant women to consume more of, there are mercury free ways of doing it. Eggs containing omega-3, flax meal, chia seeds etc are probably a safer alternative.

  • DefToSnark

    I wonder if fish oil supplements have mercury

    • Eric

      Not the high quality fish oils

  • JKern

    Kinda makes me ill that you continue to give dietary guidance without the benefit of training or the courtesy to explain the research behind your recommendations. :(

  • Caty

    Not true that small fish are low in omega 3s.. Sardines are a great source.

  • Mochelle 78

    Stop eating yellow and bluefin tuna!!!! It is SERIOUSLY overfished. Choose sustainable seafood like wild salmon, halibut and shrimp instead.