Q. I love to feed fish to my 17-month-old , but I'm really concerned about the level of mercury in it. What kinds of fish are safest?
A. Whatever your age, seafood is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. It's high in protein, supplying around 20 grams per 3-ounce serving, and it's a good source of vitamin B12 and iron. Fish also contains two essential omega-3 fatty acids, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are especially valuable to brain cells, the nervous system, the eyes, and the adrenal and sex glands. In short, fish is the top brain food, and since a child's brain grows faster in the first two years than at any other time, this makes it a great choice for toddlers.
When choosing fish for your child, keep in mind that coldwater fish like salmon and tuna contain more omega-3 fatty acids than fish from warmer waters. These coldwater fish also tend to be the safest to eat; lake-water fish are likelier to contain traces of environmental pollutants like mercury. When buying fresh fish, ask your local fish seller where the fish came from. To prepare the fish, first remove any bones and then purée.
When choosing canned tuna, don't buy the water-packed kind for your toddler. Lower-calorie tuna may be your first choice, but it's the oil that contains those healthy fatty acids your child benefits from. You can also combine foods to make meals even more nutritious: A tuna-fish salad on whole-wheat bread is a great combo. Not all tuna is equally safe, however; the healthiest option is buying fresh or frozen ocean-caught tuna.
To ensure that you're giving your child the safest foods overall, it's wise to buy certified organic, especially when purchasing produce, such as strawberries and raspberries. Since fresh fruits like these don't have a peel and their surfaces are difficult to clean, they're more likely to carry pesticide residue. While the jury is still out on the effects of these chemicals, it's probably better to err on the side of common sense and reduce your family's exposure to them. Because young children's cells grow and multiply so much faster than those of adults, and because these chemicals are stored in body fat -- which children, and infants in particular, have proportionally more of -- children may be less able to tolerate levels of pesticides that wouldn't harm a normal adult.