The Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all agree: if you’re expecting, be sure that fish is part of your weekly diet.
Why is eating fish important? It’s simple: Fish and seafood are rich in omega-3 fatty acids—the healthy fat that helps build strong brains—and does a lot of other healthy things too. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and their kids aren’t getting enough fish and seafood, which can affect brain and nervous system development.
So How Much Fish Do You Need?
The latest government advice, is for pregnant women to eat at least eight to 12 ounces of fish per week. That’s equal to about two to three servings weekly—or roughly two to three meals.
If you’re curious about this nutrition advice, here’s how the FDA’s acting chief scientist Stephen Ostroff, MD, explains it: “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.”
Plus, an FDA analysis of more than 1,000 pregnant women found that one in five ate no fish or seafood in the previous month before the analysis was conducted. The rest fell far short of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendations for fish and seafood. By the way, the Dietary Guidelines say that fish is a food most Americans need to increase in their diets.
Smart Seafood Choices
Let’s face it: fish can be pricey, but following the new government advice need not mean dipping into your unborn child’s college fund. While fresh fish is fine, frozen, canned and dried fish packs plenty of omega-3s too–for a lot less money.
Here’s what else you need to know:
- Avoid tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish and king mackerel which are highest in mercury
- Choose salmon, shrimp, pollock (often found in frozen fish sticks), tilapia, catfish and cod
- Reach for these other low-cost winners: canned salmon that can be turned into salmon cakes or a salmon loaf, sardines, canned (light) tuna, canned clams for pasta sauce and anchovies on pizza—perhaps the perfect meal to soothe a pregnant woman’s food cravings.
- Download the Seafood Watch app available for iOS and Android from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- Skip eating raw fish if you are pregnant. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all pregnant women avoid eating undercooked seafood, eggs and meat.
As with nearly everything, variety is the spice of life.
Editorial note: Originally published by Sally Squires on June 11, 2015 at Everyday Health.com. Updated August 16, 2017.