Consuming fish during pregnancy used to be a no-no. But now, according to the FDA, fish that is low in mercury provides essential nutrients for developing fetuses, breastfed infants and even young children. We spoke with Rima Kleiner, M.S., R.D. and nutrition consultant to the National Fisheries Institute on the importance of fish in a pregnant woman's diet.
Fish contains vital nutrients that aren't found in many other foods — including omega-3s, protein, selenium and B vitamins. "During pregnancy, omega-3s like DHA and EPA are especially important for maximum baby brain and eye development. In fact, half of a baby's developing brain and 60 percent of a baby's retina are comprised of omega-3s! Because our bodies don't make omega-3s, it is essential that we get them from our diet and seafood is the premiere food source of DHA and EPA," Kleiner states.
Most of the fish Americans eat contains low amounts of mercury. According to the FDA, types that are safe include salmon, shrimp, tilapia, cod and even tuna (light canned). "Expectant mamas can — and should — enjoy their favorite fish," adds Kleiner.
The FDA says there are only four types of fish pregnant and nursing women should avoid — tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. Also, limit albacore (white) tuna to six ounces per week.
Even if you're used to avoiding fish like the plague, adding it back into your diet — and getting the new recommended amounts — doesn't have to be a challenge. "Picture this: A tuna and avocado sandwich, grilled salmon with veggies and sautéed shrimp skewers on mixed greens. It's that simple to get three servings of seafood each week. Another great way to "up" your seafood intake is to substitute fish for meat or poultry in your favorite recipes, like pouch salmon for "burgers" or canned tuna in spaghetti sauce," Kleiner says.
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