Avoiding Mercury in Seafood During Pregnancy

Pregnant women might be listening to the wrong advice about safe seafood consumption. The recommendations of the most recent “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” white paper (created in 2011 by the USDA and Dept. of Health and Human Services) are flawed and out of sync with current mercury levels and even Omega-3 levels in seafood.

In short, these guidelines recommend weekly portions of seafood that put pregnant women and children at risk of mercury toxic exposure.

The Environmental Working Group recently released a report that is a must-read for women in their child-bearing years.

Pregnant women and young children face the greatest mercury risks. Even small exposures to mercury in the womb have been shown to inflict subtle but measurable deficits on children’s intelligence and nervous system. While frequent fish eating during pregnancy boosted children’s IQ measurements by about two to six points, high mercury exposure during pregnancy dropped IQ scores by two to six points.

Dietary recommendations are inconsistent with the medical risk associated with seafood toxicity. The FDA/EPA recommended amounts of some foods, like canned tuna, expose children and pregnant women to dangerous amounts of mercury. “Not all seafood is equally rich in Omega-3’s,” the EWG states against the government Guidelines’ indiscriminate support for almost all fish and shellfish as great Omega-3 sources.

Women who are choosing seafood as a means of enriching their family’s nutrition as well as their own might choosing risky, toxic seafood options without the upside of the omega-3s.

Of the 10 most popular seafoods, 8 have very low Omega-3 fatty acid levels (requiring from 20-100 ounces to meet adults’ Omega-3 recommended levels). These included Shrimp, Cod, Canned light tuna, Tilapia and Catfish.

Seafood is not a sustainable source of Omega-3s. The aquamarine ecosystem simply cannot support the recommended amount of seafood. There are options for seafood that contain omega-3s and low levels of mercury. The EWG lists anchovies, herring, mussels, salmon, sardines, shad and trout.

The EWG provides a very helpful list of seafood classified by levels of mercury as well as availability of Omega-3s.

The EWG’s report & recommendations, released last week, come as health organizations prepare to meet next month to plan the 2015 guidelines (these guidelines are released every 5 years). For the 2015 update, the EWG is strongly recommending that the USDA & HHS Guidelines be completely redrawn in order “to help [American] consumers avoid excessive mercury and consume enough omega-3 fatty acids.” In addition, the government should also “investigate non-seafood sources of omega-3’s”, as per EWG’s counsel, since “the oceans do not produce enough seafood to accommodate the planet’s growing population and need for healthy fats.”