Can Pregnant Women Eat Fish? Your Guide to Eating Fish During Pregnancy
Author’s Note: Just to avoid any possible confusion, we use the words “seafood” and “fish” interchangeably.
While the question used to be: Can pregnant women eat fish? The questions are now: Am I eating enough fish during pregnancy? What are the healthiest fish to eat? The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say to eat a variety of cooked seafood 2-3 times each week during pregnancy, but the average pregnant woman in the U.S. eats less than half a serving. It’s important for moms-to-be to eat more seafood because the need for the nutrients in fish is especially high during pregnancy.
Benefits of Eating Fish During Pregnancy
Fish contain the following nutrients that are especially important for moms-to-be:
Omega-3 DHA (“Omega-3’s”)
Omega-3 DHA is a special kind of healthy fat that helps build your baby’s brain and eyes. During the last trimester, a fetus’s brain and nervous system rapidly develops, requiring about 65 mg/day of DHA. The heightened demand for DHA continues to two years of age. Omega-3s DHA also nourishes moms’ brain health and may prevent depression during and after pregnancy.
Fish like salmon, canned or pouch tuna, sardines, trout, and anchovies are rich in omega-3 DHA. Fortified foods like DHA eggs are another source.
Protein is needed to build a baby’s skin, muscle, hair, and bones. Moms-to-be need about 25 extra grams of protein every day to support their growing baby.
Fish and shellfish, eggs, beans, peanut butter, and dairy like cottage cheese are all good sources of protein.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb nutrients like calcium, which builds a baby’s bones, teeth, heart, nerves, and muscles as well as keeps moms’ bones and teeth strong. Vitamin D may also help lower the chance of getting high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Fish like salmon, shrimp, and canned or pouch tuna contain vitamin D. Fortified food sources include milk and orange juice.
Iron helps carry oxygen from a woman’s bloodstream to her baby. Iron also helps keep moms’ immunity strong. Most moms-to-be begin their pregnancies without enough iron in their diets.
Many people think of meats like turkey, beef, and chicken as top sources of iron. Seafood like clams, halibut, crab, shrimp, and cooked oysters are also iron-rich. Vegetarian sources include red and kidney beans.
Best Fish to Eat During Pregnancy
Confusing “top fish to eat” lists abound, but fish advice for moms-to-be is a lot simpler than a Google search may make it seem. Popular types like catfish, clams, cod, crab, pollock, salmon, scallops, shrimp, tilapia, trout, and canned tuna are all not only safe fish, but healthy fish to eat. Just like it is best to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, the recommendation is to eat a variety of seafood to get the full range of nutrients found in different types of fish and shellfish. Most moms-to-be should simply eat a variety of the types of seafood they like – just more often.
All types of seafood – frozen, fresh, and canned – count. It’s easy to forget that fish is found in three places in the grocery store. Of course, the seafood counter, but also the canned goods aisle and the freezer section. It doesn’t matter which one women choose – all contain the nutrients, like omega-3s, that make seafood such a smart choice. Stock the kitchen with a variety of seafood options so there is a go-to no matter what sounds good.
Canned tuna is one of the most affordable, available forms of omega-3s in the American diet. There are two primary types of canned tuna, white (also known as albacore) and light. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can eat all types of tuna, including white (albacore) and light canned tuna as part of a variety of 2-3 servings of seafood each week.
Crab is a great choice for moms-to-be because it has a mild, sweet flavor and is rich in omega-3s. Consider adding crab or tuna to dishes you already love like macaroni and cheese.
Fish to Avoid During Pregnancy
There are only a handful of fish high in mercury to avoid, and the easy part is that most Americans rarely eat these fish anyway – shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, marlin, orange roughy, and bigeye tuna (found in sushi).
Essentially all seafood includes traces of mercury in addition to beneficial nutrients like omega-3s. Scientists have closely studied the health effects on children when their moms eat fish during pregnancy. They repeatedly conclude that eating seafood 2-3 times each week during pregnancy boosts babies’ brain development. The World Health Organization points out that avoiding seafood may actually mean missing out on the best possible brain development for babies.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Sushi?
To reduce the chance of getting sick from food, women shouldn’t eat any raw meats during pregnancy. Sushi is tasty, nutritious and fun; just make sure to stick with cooked types during pregnancy. There are many types of cooked sushi—just look for the “cooked” sticker when shopping in the grocery store or ask the server when dining out.
Can Breastfeeding Women Eat Fish?
Pregnant women who are already in the groove of eating seafood should keep it up after the baby arrives. Seafood fills breastmilk with omega-3s to nourish babies’ rapidly growing brains. Fish is also fast and fits well into busy new moms’ lives. Fish-loving parents set a positive example for their little one, who will be eating solid foods in just 4-6 months.
What are some Healthy Fish Recipes?
Whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it may make sense to eat several mini-meals instead of a big meal. Consider thinking of seafood as an add-on to mini meals and snacks morning, noon, and night. Combine canned tuna, a hard-boiled egg, and cheddar cheese for a mid-morning meal. Top tilapia with mango salsa and wrap in a corn tortilla for lunch. Mix canned salmon with olive spread and eat with a couple slices of a French baguette for a snack. Toss pasta with sundried tomatoes and shrimp for a quick dinner. Click here for more ways to get at least two seafood meals each week.
‘Eat This, Not That’ knows nothing about the healthiest fish to eat
Laughably, Eat This, Not That touts itself as “the definitive resource for smart nutrition,” among other claims. A quick glance at its website and you’ll realize this is not just an overstatement, it’s a joke.
NFI has addressed Eat This, Not That several times for fish falsities, yet the click bait engine continues unabashed. When did “smart nutrition” take into consideration clicks and ad-money over research and sound science?
This week’s occurrence of an Eat This error lists salmon, tilapia, and canned tuna as some of the “Unhealthiest Proteins on the Planet.” No one who’s ever been within a mile of published, peer-reviewed nutrition science could even read that allegation with a straight face.
All salmon are the healthiest fish to eat
To begin, Eat This reports that salmon is healthy only if it’s wild-caught. Is wild salmon healthy? You bet it is. But here are some real nutrition authorities that beg to differ with the suggestion that you avoid farmed salmon:
- A USDA study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “… showed that consuming farm-raised salmon was an excellent way to increase omega-3 fatty acids in the blood to levels that corresponded to reduced heart disease risk.”
- Dr. Sanjay Gupta participated in a 6 month expose about salmon for 60 Minutes, where he concluded there is no health difference between farmed and wild salmon. He noted the carotenoids that salmon normally ingest in the wild are added to their feed when they’re farmed, giving them their pink color. Saying they are “dyed” pink is not accurate.
To add to the irony of Eat This’ belief that they are a legitimate nutrition resource, they attribute their claims about salmon not to a published paper, a government study, or a scientist… but instead to hyperlinks that take you back to their own misinformation. How’s that for credible sourcing?
Eat This turns to tilapia, alleging all kinds of disaster based on, you guessed it, their own articles chock-full of hyperbole. Why educate consumers about real nutrition backed by science, when you can shamelessly self-promote your own clickbait?
Lastly, Eat This states that albacore tuna can have almost triple the levels of mercury of other tuna species. Shockingly, they get close to reporting a real fact, but forget to include the rest of the context around it. According to the FDA, albacore tuna has 0.3ppm of mercury and light canned tuna has 0.1ppm of mercury. The FDA’s limit for mercury in seafood is 1.0ppm, with a ten-fold safety-factor built in. Meaning the real upper limit is 10.0ppm. To further canned tuna’s mercury content in perspective, if the FDA’s limit was a 55mph speed limit, albacore tuna is driving at 1.65 miles per hour and light canned tuna is driving at little more than half a mile per hour. Clearly, both are not even close to levels of concern and the FDA recommends eating both, even for pregnant women.
Setting the record straight
Fish contain high quality protein, copious vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, are low in saturated fat and are associated with an array of health benefits, including a lower risk of depression, heart disease, and memory loss. Real nutrition authorities consider seafood among the healthiest foods on the planet, and encourage Americans to eat it more often.
Eat This wrongly suggests that nutritious, affordable, and accessible seafood sources like canned tuna, tilapia and farmed salmon should be avoided… when in reality they’re among the healthiest fish to eat. This isn’t an inconsequential error. Unnecessarily scaring consumers away from seafood contributes to an ongoing public health crisis that contributes to 84,000 preventable deaths each year according to Harvard University research. Keep in mind, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recommends Americans eat at least 2 servings of seafood per week. Additionally, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice per a week. Unfortunately, research shows only 1 in 10 Americans meet the recommendation of eating seafood at least twice per week.
Real experts and authorities in the nutrition and public health space encourage Americans to eat more seafood, and educate consumers about the healthiest fish to eat. “Smart nutrition” is listening to the them, not that.
What is the Healthiest Fish to Eat? Spoiler Alert: Yes
Healthiest Fish to Eat
You probably aren’t getting enough of the healthiest fish. From boosting heart health and baby brain development to reducing the risk of heart disease and depression, eating just about any seafood at least 2 to 3 times each week has scientifically-proven health benefits. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that everyone—including pregnant and breastfeeding women—should increase the amount of seafood they eat to 2 to 3 servings each week for heart and brain healthy benefits.
At a time when people are told to limit many foods, seafood is among a handful of “yes” foods that Americans are encouraged to eat more of for optimal health. Yet despite seafood being a winning food, Americans just don’t eat enough. Most Americans, on average, eat about one serving of seafood every week, which means most people need to (at least) double the amount of fish and shellfish they eat to meet the recommended 2 to 3 servings each week. And, children are eating too little, as well. Consumer survey data shows 91 percent of parents with children 12 years and younger say their children aren’t eating seafood twice a week.
Why It’s Important to Eat The Healthiest Fish
Seafood, which includes both fish and shellfish, tends to be low in calories and saturated fat, particularly when compared to other protein sources. Seafood is also rich in important nutrients, such as a vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one cause of death in men and women in the U.S., with risk factors including diabetes, high blood cholesterol and being overweight. The good news is that eating more of the healthiest fish improves health and helps to lower these risk factors. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating at least two servings of seafood each week to reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, low consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is the second biggest dietary contributor to preventable deaths in the U.S., taking a total of 84,000 lives each year. And, eating seafood just twice a week can reduce the risk of fatal heart attacks by 36 percent! Eating seafood provides the essential nutrients that can help protect against heart attacks, decrease blood triglyceride levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Not only does a seafood-rich diet boost heart health in expectant moms, but eating seafood 2 to 3 times every week during pregnancy can help reduce post-partum depression. Research shows that women who eat no seafood during pregnancy are twice as likely to experience depression as those who eat seafood two times a week.
And, the benefits from eating adequate amounts of seafood don’t stop with mom. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids from seafood like salmon and tuna are essential for optimal baby brain and eye development. A recent study found that moms-to-be who ate fish 2 to 3 times each week during pregnancy had babies who reached milestones—such as imitating sounds, recognizing family members and drinking from a cup—more quickly than those whose mothers didn’t eat seafood regularly. Additionally, the omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA, found in seafood—like tuna and salmon—make up a major part of the brain and retina. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding moms eat at least 2 to 3 servings (or 8 to 12 ounces) of a variety of seafood each week to help baby’s eyes and brain develop properly.
How Much Seafood Do Americans Eat
According to recent USDA data, Americans ate about 14.5 pounds of seafood on average in 2014, which is down from 16.5 pounds in 2006. While this may sound like a lot, it averages out to less than 3.5 ounces per week, which is less than half of the recommended 8 to 12 ounces each week.
There are several reasons why most Americans eat less than the recommended amounts of seafood. The USDA survey suggests that a lack of awareness about the health benefits of seafood and lack of confidence in cooking seafood may be two factors. Additionally, other evidence suggests that the average American may not perceive themselves at-risk for health conditions stemming from an omega-3 deficiency and, therefore, are not making necessary changes to their diet. In addition, many Americans are misinformed about the safety of eating various types of fish and express a lack of confident in selecting or preparing seafood.
Choosing the Healthiest Fish
Even though most Americans currently eat too little seafood, the good news is that choosing which seafood is healthiest to eat is easy. All commercially-sold seafood—meaning the fish and shellfish sold in restaurants in supermarkets—is safe to eat. While the Dietary Guidelines recommends eating a variety of seafood, the top five consumed seafood—shrimp, salmon, canned tuna, tilapia and Alaskan pollock—comprise nearly three-quarters of all seafood eaten in 2014, according to the USDA.
And for pregnant and breastfeeding women, there are only a few fish they need to avoid, such as king mackerel, shark, swordfish, tilefish, orange roughy, marlin and bigeye tuna (found in sushi). Otherwise, all other commercially-sold seafood can—and should—be enjoyed by expectant and breastfeeding mothers.
 Danaei G, Mozaffarian D, Taylor B, Rehm J, et al. (2009). The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors. PLoS Med 6(4).
 Horn, L. V., PhD, RD., McCoin, M., MPH, RD., Kris-Etherton, P. M., PhD, RD., Burke, F., MS, RD.,Carson, J. A. S., PhD, RD., Champagne, C. M., PhD, RD., Sikand, G., MA, RD. (2008, February). The Evidence for Dietary Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(2).
 Golding, Jean, et al. “High levels of depressive symptoms in pregnancy with low omega-3 fatty acid intake from fish.” Epidemiology 20 (2009): 598-603.
 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Associations of maternal fish intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding duration with attainment of developmental milestones in early childhood: a study from the Danish National Birth Cohort. Available at:http://www.ajcn.org/content/88/3/789.abstract. Accessed March 5, 2012.
 Harrison L. (2001, November 1). Psychology Today. Eating fish during pregnancy and lactation may benefit mother and child. Available at: http: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200111/eating-fish-during-pregnancy-and-lactation-may-benefit-mother-and-child. Accessed March 5, 2012.
Sustainable Fish: Scientists Say Global Tuna Stocks are Healthy
If you care about the health of our oceans, consuming sustainable fish or just want to feel good about feeding your kids an affordable, accessible source of omega-3s like canned tuna, you deserve to know whether the methods used to catch the fish on your plate are sustainable fishing practices.
A central conceit of Greenpeace’s ongoing attacks on the tuna industry is that they aren’t—that stocks are in danger of being overfished, and that efficient, modern fishing methods like purse seines and Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) are to blame.
But these claims have essentially no basis in reality. A recent presentation from “renowned tuna fisheries scientist” Alain Fonteneau of the French Research Institute for Development (IRP) confirms ongoing work actually makes tuna a pretty sustainable fish.
A piece in SeafoodSource.com covering the presentation ahead of the 2017 Seafood Expo Global quotes Fonteneau as concluding that even as “[f]ishing effort[s] in most tuna fisheries [have] grown steadily in recent years. . .these stocks remain in a healthy state and are much less overfished than many other coastal resources…” Fonteneau noted global tuna stocks are “very robust” and “very difficult to heavily overfish,” and that none of the world’s 21 major tuna stocks have shown signs of critical collapse.
Good News for Skipjack and Albacore
The news is especially good for skipjack and albacore, which comprise the vast majority of the canned tuna market in the United States.
Though Fontaneau couched his analysis with prudent warnings about the need for vigilance and care to ensure tuna fisheries stay healthy long-term, his conclusion was unambiguous: “There is no tuna disaster.”
At the same time Fonteneau remarked on the “heightened productivity” and “improved efficiency” of skipjack fishery, due entirely to the increase in use of FADs in recent years.
Contrast this with recent independent scientific research from the University of California demonstrating that the fishing methods Greenpeace prefers are terribly inefficient, and leave a carbon footprint orders of magnitude larger than FADs.
Greenpeace Alternatives Worse for Environment
That’s right: Greenpeace opposes modern tuna fishing on sustainability grounds, but the latest science shows that current methods are sustainable fishing techniques, and the alternative Greenpeace proposes is actually much worse for the environment.
You’d think this stunning juxtaposition would be news for anyone covering seafood sustainability, ENGOs, or both. But it hasn’t seemed to phase the activists, much less slowed down their fundraising juggernaut.
Commitment to Sustainability
The good news is there are responsible adults in the world committed to real seafood sustainability, groups like the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) – a globally recognized group of sustainable fisheries experts and scientists. And while Greenpeace and its allies drift farther and farther away from reality, tuna companies are committed to collaborating with ISSF and others to ensure that stocks are healthy not just today, but tomorrow and over the long term.
NFI’s 2017 Annual Chowder Party
Kick-off the 2017 Seafood Expo North America Show with old friends and new. Join us to celebrate NFI’s Annual Chowder Party to be held on Saturday, March 18th, at the beautiful Westin Boston Waterfront, conveniently located adjacent to the Boston Convention
Early Bird Rate: $75 (ends Jan. 27)
Regular Rate: $85 (Jan. 28 – Mar. 16)
On-Site Rate: $95 (Mar. 17 – Mar. 18)
2017 Global Seafood Market Conference
Registration is now open for the 2017 Global Seafood Market Conference! The Global Seafood Market Conference will provide the industry with information on the economic, social and demographic trends and changes that will affect international seafood markets. During the conference, seafood markets will be segregated into individual market levels based on the price points in which they compete. At NFI’s 2017 GSMC, participants will determine a view of the opportunities and pitfalls for supplying and purchasing the major species groups in the coming year.
The cover story for March issue of SeaFood Business, which will be available at the IBSS, is on species substitution. In the article, Law and Order, Jamie Wright provides a recap of the Boston Globe story and subsequent Massachusetts legislature hearing. In addition, there is a lengthy interview with Wayne Hettenbach, the senior trial attorney for the Environmental Crimes Section of Department of Justice, who was involved with the recent fraud cases and an excellent summary of some of the convictions.
This story, along with the Point of View column, You’ve Been Warned, which was in the February issue of SeaFood Business, should be a reality check for everyone in the seafood supply chain. No matter where you are in the supply chain, species substitution is against the law and when caught the penalties are real.
Species Substitution in the News
Lost in all the press generated by the Boston Globe 2-part series on species substitution at Boston-area restaurants and Oceana’s report on substitution at Boston-area grocery stores is a story from another large seafood-centric city, Seattle. The local NPR affiliate (KPLU 88.5) reports on the efforts of Washington state’s Fish and Wildlife police to look for mislabeled species at area food markets.
Budget cuts and other assigned duties certainly don’t allow this to be a full-time duty of the WDFW, but seeking out fraud goes a long way to stopping the cheaters. As Officer Olson states, “Quite honestly all this stuff, it’s always about the money. It’s always about the bottom line.”
If you want a do-it-yourself guide to finding cheaters, check out this fascinating link. Professor Erica Cline with the University of Washington-Tacoma has a Catching Cheaters Salmon Market Substitution Project, complete with instructor and student lab manuals. Now that’s a useful science project.
Science to Combat Fraud (Part IV)
KGO-TV, San Francisco’s ABC affiliate, ran an excellent story about a current FDA project to supplement the global database Fish Barcode of Life. Pairing taxonomic identifications with unique DNA sequences provides the linkage necessary for regulatory actions on misidentified species. A positive story about FDA’s efforts to combat species substitution–no gotcha story here, just the facts.
The Many Faces of Food Fraud (Part IV)
But interspersed with these stories are some different takes on fraud in the seafood industry that hit the media waves this week. Lest we think that all fraud takes place in the United States, the first story is from down under in Australia.
A Gold Coast man pleaded guilty to 23 counts of fraud and obtaining money by false pretenses charges of defrauding five people of a total of about $6.5 million for investing in a non-existent seafood business.
A former bookkeeper for a local seafood company was sentenced Wednesday to 28 months in federal prison, plus 10 months of home confinement, after admitting she embezzled $2.3 million from the company to feed her gambling addiction.
A Gardena seafood dealer who imported endangered whale meat from Tokyo and sold it to sushi restaurants pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge for selling a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose, in violation of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
A truck load of 25,000 pounds of king crab disappears. The trucking company and truckers documents appear to have been bogus.