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Choose smart to relish fish during pregnancy

Posted:  Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Much has been said about maternal diet and its impact on the growing foetus. Although a balanced diet is recommended during pregnancy, consumption of foods such as fish continues to be a matter of debate. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued updated advice on the consumption of fish during pregnancy and lactation. They recommend consumption of at least 8 ounces and upto 12 ounces of fish that are low in mercury per week during these crucial periods.

A viewpoint on the guidelines published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, summarises the advice. These recommendations come in the wake of a survey that revealed that the majority of pregnant women do not eat much fish and may consequently have inadequate intake of certain omega-3 fatty acids. The fish that have the lowest levels of mercury and the highest levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are salmon, pollack, squid, sardines and oysters.

The FDA report warns pregnant and lactating women against the consumption of certain fish such as shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel because they have the highest levels of mercury. It also recommends limiting consumption of albacore tuna to six ounces per week.

Omega-3 fats such as EPA and DHA are vital components of cell membranes and are important for the normal development of the brain and retinal tissues as well as for the maintenance of normal neurotransmission and connectivity. Studies have found that consumption of adequate quantities of EPA and DHA during pregnancy is associated with better childhood IQ scores, fine motor coordination, and communication and social skills. However, a similar effect has not been observed with fish oil supplements making fish consumption particularly important.

This report has answered the biggest question of whether to eat or not eat fish during pregnancy and lactation. It is indeed great news that careful selection can help mothers strike a balance between the risks and nutritional benefits of eating fish.

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