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What are the best (and worst) types of fish to eat during pregnancy?

For years, women have been advised to avoid fish high in mercury during pregnancy, but the official guidelines didn’t offer advice on what fish were most dangerous.

On Jan. 18, the FDA published its list of what fish is safest to eat during pregnancy and what could cause the most damage to the unborn baby. This is, we are told, its “final advice.” Yes, the FDA is just as fed up trying to figure out what pregnant women should be eating as we all are.

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In fact, it’s actually pretty much identical to the “draft advice” of 2014, but now, various types of fish are divided into three handy categories with an easy reference chart. Whether this is actually “final advice” remains to be seen. Things change. (It wasn’t until the 1960s that pregnant smokers were told that their habit might not have the best impact on their babies.) 

Anyway, the three categories of fish in relation to pregnancy — also applicable to women of childbearing age (about 16 to 49 years old), breastfeeding women and young children — are: best choices (eat two to three servings per week), good choices (eat one serving per week) and choices to avoid (fish that contain the highest levels of mercury.) 

The choices-to-avoid fish are king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, swordfish, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico and bigeye tuna. Luckily, plenty of U.S. fishy favorites are included in the best choices list, including crab, salmon, shrimp and canned tuna.

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According to the FDA, 50 percent of pregnant women ate less than 2 ounces of fish per week, which is far less than the recommended two to three servings (approximately 8 to 12 ounces) per week.

Last year, two studies backed up the recommendations. Research funded by the government of Spain found that eating more fish during pregnancy was linked to better fetal brain health. Eating three to four servings of fish per week was linked to a 2.8 increase in IQ score.

And a Japanese study suggested eating fish in moderation during pregnancy would help improve the growth of a baby’s brain due to the effects of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

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So, if you’re pregnant or hoping to become pregnant, make sure you eat more fish from the best choices list. (And let’s hope those pregnancy cravings don’t include anything on the choices to avoid list, or it could be a tough nine months.) 

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