Mercury Levels in Fish

Mercury Levels in Fish

Despite the previous concern regarding mercury levels in fish, the FDA now recommends that women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or plan on becoming pregnant consume more fish. Fish contain vital nutrients including omega-3s, protein, vitamins, and minerals such as iron. These nutrients are essential, particularly for pregnant moms, as they foster healthy fetal, infant, and childhood development.

How much fish should I eat?

Many Americans do not eat adequate amounts of fish. However, the FDA recommends eating 8 to 12 ounces of fish low in mercury per week. That amounts to about 2 to 3 servings of fish per week, which can be eaten in place of other types of protein. Make sure to choose a variety of fish lower in mercury, such as salmon, tilapia, shrimp, tuna (canned light), cod, and catfish. Consumption of white (albacore) tuna should not exceed 6 ounces per week.

What fish should I avoid?

Mercury is an element that can collect in oceans, lakes, and streams. In these bodies of water, mercury turns into methylmercury, a neurotoxin found in most fish in at least small amounts. In high quantities, methylmercury can be toxic to the nervous system. Due to their high mercury levels, there are four types of fish that should be avoided while pregnant or breastfeeding. These include tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, swordfish, shark, and king mackerel.

Also, if you eat fish from a local river, stream, or lake, make sure to first check the advisories for those bodies of water. You can find this information on your local fishing regulations website or through your local health department. If this information is not provided, consumption of such fish should be limited to 6 ounces per week. It is also recommend for pregnant and breastfeeding women to avoid eating raw fish as they are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.

What if I ate one of the high-mercury fish?

It is unlikely that one serving of such fish would pose a risk. However, it is best to avoid these while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Is it okay to avoid all fish and just take omega-3 supplements?

While omega-3 supplements are beneficial, if you avoid all fish, you will be missing out on other essential nutrients. It is best to eat a variety of lower mercury fish. In addition, you can take an omega-3 supplement. The Association recommends the brand Nordic Naturals.

Last Updated: 12/2014

Compiled using information from the following sources:

Lewine, H. (2013, July 12). Fish oil: friend or foe? Message posted to http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fish-oil-friend-or-foe-201307126467
Nordic Naturals. (n.d.). Why omega-3s. Retrieved from http://www.nordicnaturals.com/en/General_Public/Why_Omega-3s/542
U.S. Department of Agriculture & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010. Retrieved from http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/dietaryguidelines2010.pdf
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2014). Fish: What pregnant women and parents should know. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm