True or false: Pregnant women should not eat fish and shellfish because of their high mercury content.
That was a trick question. Pregnant women should definitely eat fish because it is an excellent source of high-quality protein and essential nutrients, like iodine, iron, and many B vitamins. It is also low in fat so it's good for everyone.
There are, however, certain types of fish that are known to have high mercury content, and pregnant women, those planning to get pregnant, breastfeeding moms, and children should avoid them.
Nearly all fish contain traces of mercury, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It's the level of mercury that makes the difference, and size is usually a determining factor. Bigger fish that live longer will equal to more mercury absorbed in their body -- these are the ones to be avoided. Otherwise, fish with lower levels of mercury are a-ok to have a few times a week.
Based on its recent updated guidelines on fish consumption, FDA has a handy chart that groups fish by mercury content, the recommended servings in a week, and portion sizes.
In the “Best Choices” category, Filipinos will be familiar with the following: catfish (hito), clam (halaan), crab (alimango), oyster (talaba), salmon, sardine (of which tawilis is a member of), shrimp (hipon), squid (pusit) and tilapia.
Pregnant women, breastfeeding moms, and those planning to get pregnant can have the above two to three times a week. Serving size is 4 ounces or a piece roughly the size of your palm.
For children 2 years old and above, one to two fish servings a week is recommended with portion sizes roughly the size of your child’s palm. “Serving sizes for children should be smaller and adjusted for their age and total calorie needs,” says the FDA. “On average, a serving size is about 1 ounce for children ages 2-3 years; 2 ounces for children ages 4-7 years; 3 ounces for children ages 8-10 years; and 4 ounces for children 11 years and older.”
Fish in the “Good Choices” category are only to be eaten once a week. Those in “Choices to Avoid” have the highest mercury levels and should not be eaten at all. These include swordfish, marlin, and shark.
Why avoid mercury? Large amounts of mercury in the human body can cause damage to the brain and nervous system. Though the toxin is naturally removed by the body, the process takes several months. So in order to keep the substance from accumulating in your system, controlled servings are recommended. This is also the reason why these guidelines are aimed for those planning to get pregnant.
Cooking and cleaning do not lessen the amount of mercury in your fish, but the FDA still advises removing the skin, fat, and internal organs of the fish as this is where “other harmful pollutants may accumulate.”
Mix it up too. “Eating a variety of fish is better for you and your child than eating the same type every time.”