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Fish Is Back on the Menu for Pregnant Women and Tots

Salmon, anyone? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently updated guidelines for fish consumption for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and small children.

The 261-page report weighs the risks and benefits and ultimately comes to the conclusion that two to three portions of fish per week is beneficial to the growth of a fetus and young children.

"For years, many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children," says Stephen Ostroff, M.D., the FDA's acting chief scientist. "But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health."

The new guidelines

The revised FDA guidelines encourage women to eat 8 to 12 ounces of fish each week. Children older than 6 months should also consume two to three portions relating to their age and caloric needs. For example, children ages 2 to 8 can enjoy 3 to 6 ounces per week.

If you're an angler, limit yourself to 6 ounces of locally caught fish per week. Children may consume 1 to 3 ounces. When planning meals for your family, choose low-mercury options, such as:

  • Salmon (Atlantic, Chinook, Coho, Pink and Sockeye)
  • Sardines (Atlantic and Pacific)
  • Oysters (Pacific)
  • Tilapia
  • Cod
  • Pollock
  • Canned light tuna

According to the FDA, methylmercury is a neurotoxin that collects in streams and oceans and may transfer from seafood to humans, causing harm to the brain or nervous system. Some species absorb more methylmercury and should be avoided during pregnancy and not fed to children. These include King Mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.

The benefits

The nutritional benefits of consuming fish are too numerous to deny. According to the report, fish:

  • benefits fetal neurodevelopment
  • is an easily digestible protein
  • is rich in taurine, arginine, glutamine, vitamin A, vitamin D, iodine and selenium
  • provides omega-3 fatty acids to develop the central nervous system and reduces heart attack and stroke risks

Adding fish to the menu

It's simple to add two to three 4-ounce servings of fish to your weekly meal planning. From grilled tuna steaks to smoked salmon atop a fresh salad, you have options. The only rule: avoid raw fish. Sushi is not on the menu.

When it comes to encouraging your little one to eat fish, keep it simple. Avoid seasonings and sauces. Offer flaky, soft chunks of pan-cooked salmon or chilled pre-cooked sardines that are easy for little fingers to pick up. Or get creative, and check out our Easy Asian Fish Cakes and Mini-Fish Burgers recipes.

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