If you are taking a fish oil supplement while pregnant or nursing, can you skip eating seafood? A dietitian explains.
Some of us happily enjoy a homemade tuna sandwich, a piece of freshly grilled salmon at dinnertime, and other seafood dishes a few times a week. But, unfortunately, many pregnant and lactating women aren’t coming close to the recommended 8-10 ounce weekly intake of seafood.
As a solution, many people, especially women during pregnancy and who are breastfeeding, lean on fish oil supplements to help them get in important healthy fats, even when they are foregoing their fish and shellfish.
But is taking a fish oil supplement an appropriate substitute for eating seafood every week? Or do you still need to eat your fish and shellfish even if you are religiously popping a fish oil pill every day?
What Is Fish Oil?
The fish we eat, especially more oily options like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are rich sources of unique omega-3 fatty acids that offer important health benefits. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) are two specific omega-3 fatty acids found in these oily fish and they are incredibly important for supporting a healthy pregnancy, specifically by offering potential benefits like reducing the risk of pre-term labor and possibly reducing the risk of developing postpartum depression. And for lactating women, adequate intake of the healthy omegas found in fish is linked to outcomes like better infant psychomotor development and a reduced risk of infant allergies.
These fatty acids are considered to be healthy fats and these omegas cannot be produced by the human body in adequate amounts, making it incredibly important to take this fat in via your diet, especially when pregnant or lactating.
Omega 3 benefits certainly run the gamut. Some roles DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids may play in the human body include:
- Vision support
- Brain health support
- Heart-health support
- Help maintain a healthy pregnancy in pregnant women
- Combat chronic inflammation
- Support mental health
And when it comes to a developing baby, DHA omega 3 fatty acids play an important role in both eye and brain health.
How much fish oil should be taken daily depends on a few factors, including a person’s age and health status. Pregnant women are told to take in a minimum of 200 milligrams of DHA omega-3 fatty acids, with some data suggesting that a daily dose that is closer to 1,000 milligrams should be what we are aiming for during certain stages of pregnancy. Ultimately, the exact amount of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids you should be shooting for should be discussed with your health care provider.
What Are Fish Oil Pills?
We already know how beneficial fish oil can be to supporting our overall health. Therefore, it is no surprise that fish oil is one of U.S. adults and children’s most commonly used nonvitamin/nonmineral dietary supplements.
When taking a fish oil supplement, you are essentially taking a pill made of the oils obtained from a fish. Typically, these fish oil supplements are fantastic sources of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids, and they help people take in these important fats in a convenient way. In some cases, these supplements may also contain additional nutrients, like vitamin D.
There is no doubt that taking these pills is convenient, and they are a simple way to provide your body with these key nutrients. But only leaning on pills and not including fish in your diet can leave you missing out on other important nutrients that extend beyond DHA and EPA omega-3s.
A Fish Oil Pill Is Not A Substitute For Eating Fish
Taking a fish oil supplement loaded with DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids is one simple habit that many health experts recommend, especially when it comes to those who are pregnant or lactating.
But does popping a fish oil supplement mean you don’t have to eat the recommended 8-10 ounces of seafood every week?
While it is true that one of the reasons seafood is recommended to be a part of the pregnancy and lactation diet is because of the unique healthy omega-3 fatty acids they provide, the fat content is not the only reason why fish is suggested.
Sure, one serving of salmon or tuna can fuel your body with loads of DHA and EPA omega-3s, but seafood is also chock-full of handfuls of other important nutrients that are too important to ignore.
Let’s take a can of tuna, as an example. In each 3-ounce serving, you get 60 milligrams of EPA omega-3 fatty acids and over 1,000 milligrams of DHA omega-3 fatty acids. But along with a hefty dose of these healthy fats, you also get a dose of protein, selenium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamin B12, and a slew of other nutrients that support a healthy pregnancy, heart health, brain health, and overall well-being.
And data shows that some benefits of eating fish include supporting bone health, reducing anxiety levels, and even reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. During pregnancy, eating fish is linked to some fascinating outcomes too.
According to the results of one study, pregnant women who ate fish 2-3 times every week had babies who reached milestones like climbing stairs, drinking from a cup, and drawing more quickly than babies born to moms who did not eat the same amount of fish every week. Another study showed that children whose mothers eat seafood during pregnancy may gain an average of 7.7 IQ points compared to those whose mothers do not eat seafood.
Mercury Concerns Surrounding Fish Consumption During Pregnancy
Eating fish during pregnancy can fuel your body with important nutrients in a delicious and sustainable way, the potential methylmercury content of your fish needs to be taken into consideration.
Methylmercury is a naturally occurring toxic element that settles from the air into our water sources. This compound can build up in fish, and can therefore be transferred to humans when we enjoy a seafood meal. When this metal is consumed in large amounts during pregnancy, the risk of experiencing negative effects on the baby’s brain and nervous system development can increase.
Considering how many beneficial compounds fish can provide a pregnant person, it is not recommended to avoid fish altogether. Instead, the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that those who are pregnant or breastfeeding consume between 8 and 12 ounces per week of a variety of seafood from choices that are lower in mercury.
When shopping for fish during pregnancy, it is helpful to know that Safe Catch Elite and Ahi tuna and salmon meet Consumer Report’s “low mercury criteria” set for vulnerable populations like pregnant women and young children. Plus, Safe Catch is the only brand of seafood to test every tuna (Elite and Ahi) and salmon to a mercury limit 10-25x stricter than the FDA action limit, making it a perfect addition to pregnancy and nursing-safe diet.
Fish Oil Pills + Seafood = Maximum Health Benefits
No matter whether you are trying to support your heart health, maintain a healthy pregnancy or support a healthy breastfeeding journey, taking a fish oil supplement and eating seafood can both help you achieve your goal. Therefore, the question of whether you should take a fish oil supplement vs eating fish is moot, as ideally, you are doing both! Sticking to fish options that are lower in mercury, like Safe Catch Elite Tuna, will help you meet your needs in a safe and nourishing way.
Bottom line? The benefits of omega 3s are too important to neglect especially during pregnancy. Combining your fish oil pill with your seafood intake will ensure you are giving your body exactly what you need, even on days when you are not including fish in your diet. So, keep taking your recommended fish oil per day, but don’t skip the seafood. Your body will thank you for it.