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Should Pregnant Women Eat More Tuna?

by Katlyn Joy | August 25, 2014 9:34 AM0 Comments

The Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency are looking into revising their guidelines on fish, and Consumer Reports is concerned about what they plan to recommend, especially to pregnant women and women of childbearing age.

FDA Tuna Recommendations for Pregnant Women

The latest proposal from the FDA would recommend pregnant women and those breastfeeding or trying to get pregnant eat between 8 and 12 ounces of fish per week, and want to set minimum weekly levels for children, as well. This is historic as it is the first time the agency has set a firm minimum level on seafood.

Back in 2004, the FDA recommended that women of childbearing age eat no more than 12 ounces of fish a week due to mercury level concerns. While the maximum guidelines stay in place, now the agency recommends a minimum level as well. This is due to research by the FDA finding that 1 in 5 pregnant women had eaten no fish at all in the previous month, and of those who did consume seafood, the average serving was only 4 ounces or less a week.

FDA chief scientist, Stephen Ostroff, M.D., said, "The latest science strongly indicates that eating 8 to 12 ounces per week of a variety of fish lower in mercury during pregnancy benefits fetal growth and development."

The FDA and EPA also warns that women of childbearing age, pregnant women and young children avoid the four fish with the highest mercury concentrations such as swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.

Why the FDA Recommendations May be Dangerous

Consumer Reports thinks the government agencies needs to clarify for consumers what the mercury levels are in different fish, so they can make wise and safe food choices. Also, Consumer Reports disagrees adamantly about what is safe for pregnant women and young children in regards to tuna. CR states they believe pregnant women should not eat tuna at all.

Tuna accounts for 28 percent of the mercury exposure in the US, and tuna is the second-most eaten seafood, after shrimp. According to the new guidelines, a pregnant woman can have up to 6 ounces of albacore tuna weekly. However, a woman weighing just 125 pounds would go over the safe mercury levels by eating just 4 ounces a week. That's less than one can of average size.

The current safe dietary level of mercury set by the EPA is a blood level of 5.8 micrograms per liter of blood maximum. This level was set more than a decade ago, and several studies since then indicate the level should be lowered.

According to the former senior risk assessor for the EPA, Deborah Rice, "Based on newer studies showing harm from mercury at lower doses, there is no question that 5.8 micrograms is too high."

How much lower should it be? According to Rice, it should be lowered to 2 to 3 micrograms per liter of blood.

Tuna Hazards

Albacore tuna has the most mercury, followed by light canned tuna. Light tuna has only a third of the mercury of albacore. However, data found from actual FDA testing indicated that 20 percent of the tuna samples from 2005 onward has double the amount of mercury listed. This means that light tuna that tested at the highest levels had higher levels of mercury than king mackerel, a no-no fish for pregnant women.

But the biggest tuna risk is with big eye tuna or yellowfish, the kind of tuna called ahi, which is used in sushi. Mercury levels in this type of tuna is equivalent to that in swordfish and shark.

What are the Health Effects of Mercury?

Methylmercury found in fish can cause problems with memory, attention, cognitive function, language and fine motor skills.

Besides the big four fish offenders, orange roughy and marlin also have high levels and the FDA is considering adding them to the avoid list. Other fish high in mercury and should be limited include: grouper, Chilean sea bass, bluefish, halibut, sablefish, Spanish mackerel, and fresh tuna.

Best Seafood Choices.

The following have the lowest concentrations of mercury:

  • shrimp
  • scallops
  • sardines
  • Alaska and wild salmon
  • oysters
  • tilapia
  • squid

Nearly as low are:

  • haddock
  • Pollock
  • flounder and sole
  • Atlantic croaker
  • crawfish
  • catfish
  • trout
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • crab
  • mullet

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