Raw fish, alcohol, cold lunch meat, soft cheeses, caffeine, herbal tea, unpasteurized juice and basically every type of medicine except vitamins: The list of things that pregnant women should avoid is long. (And also hard to remember! Which sodas have caffeine again? Oh wait, I’m not supposed to drink soda either.) But, one of the biggest pregnancy prohibitions is fish that could be high in mercury like shark, tilefish, swordfish and tuna. And now you can add canned tuna fish to that list.
Canned “chunk light” tuna used to be considered safe, but Consumer Reports says even that registers as toxic, so kiss your tuna melts good-bye, mamas-to-be! (Which might be good news, if you’re still in the throes of morning sickness and even reading the word “fish” makes you want to hurl.) The FDA has long classified albacore tuna and tuna steaks as high risk, but it still says that chunk light tuna can be eaten in moderation, no more than six servings a month. However, the Consumer Reports report asks the FDA to rethink that recommendation.
This is ironic because eating fatty fish has been shown to be extremely beneficial for both mom and babe, but of course mercury is one of the worst neurotoxins we have. So, pregnant ladies are left constantly checking the updated lists of which fish are “dangerous,” which are “high,” which are “moderate” and which are “safe,” to make sure they’re not poisoning their babies’ brains. And as every woman who’s ever pored through What to Expect When You’re Expecting in the middle of a late-night panic attack (or heart burn, it’s hard to tell sometimes) can tell you, making sure your baby’s brain is developing properly is priority numero uno.
So, how worried should you be about that tuna salad you had for lunch? The FDA remains unconcerned, pointing out that it is lean protein, low in saturated fat and naturally rich in omega-3 fats, along with vitamin D and selenium. They say the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks, even in the case of canned tuna.
Fetuses are fragile, the environment has lots of toxins and moms are the only defense between their babes and the cold, cruel world — which is why most of us choose to err on the safe side, thereby avoiding things which probably would be OK. We just don’t want to take any unnecessary risks and who needs Brie anyhow? (Me. I do.) This ever-growing list of things not to eat is confusing, frustrating and scary — sometimes pregnancy feels like a nine-month slog of deprivation — but it’s hard to be mad about people just trying to help you bake your bun without burning the top.
Yet, there is a risk to treating pregnancy like an illness and treating pregnant women like patient-incubators: Eventually they might believe it. Pregnancy, for most of us, is not a disability. It’s a normal part of life. I am constantly amazed at what pregnant women can do and it’s often a lot more than we think we can. I totally agree that pregnant women should follow their doctors’ recommendations on safe eating and they should be encouraged to be as safe as reasonably possible. But, I also think we should help them worry less, reminding them how strong and resilient they are. After all, that will be one of the best things they can pass on to their children.