Eat More Fish -- but Do It Safely
Kathy Attar, MPH
September 16, 2014
Fish -- high in protein but low in unhealthy fats -- can play an important part in a healthy diet. Fish are also a great source of vitamins, minerals and nutrients called omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can prevent heart disease and help in healthy brain development in children.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) view fish as such an important food they recently proposed new guidelines recommending that women of childbearing age and young children eat more of it.
However, certain fish are safer than others to eat due to toxic pollutants like mercury. Mercury pollution comes from coal-powered plants, mining and other industrial activity. It gets into our water and then moves up the food chain, carried from small fish to the bigger ones that eat them – like tuna, for example.
Exposure to mercury has been linked to preterm delivery, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children as well as heart problems.
The new proposed FDA/EPA regulations suggest that pregnant women, breastfeeding moms, or those trying to become pregnant eat between eight and 12 ounces of fish per week. This is the first time the government has set a minimum level for weekly fish consumption. Unfortunately, the guidelines are not clear on what types of fish women and children should eat and what they should avoid.
For example, the FDA and EPA include canned light tuna as a lower mercury option that folks can eat to meet the minimum weekly fish requirements. Light canned tuna on average has only a third of the mercury found in albacore tuna. However, data from the FDA show that 20% of light tuna tested since 2005 contained almost double the average level the agency lists for that type of tuna.
There is no way of knowing which cans of light tuna have the higher amounts of mercury; thus, pregnant women should be particularly careful about consuming any form of tuna including light canned due to potential damage to fetal brain development.
The FDA and EPA are requesting comments on their proposed guideline on fish before they are finalized. Let's tell the regulatory agencies to improve their guidelines and help consumers eat fish in a healthy and safe manner.
PSR believes the FDA and EPA should:
- Recommend pregnant women avoid eating any tuna, including canned light tuna.
- Stop advising women of childbearing age they can safely eat up to six ounces of canned white (albacore) tuna per week.
- Develop recommendations for anyone eating more than twenty-four ounces of fish per week, in order to avoid being exposed to unsafe levels of mercury.
- Require that their guidelines be posted wherever fish is sold.
You can submit your comments on the Regulations.gov site here.
PSR has also updated our "Healthy Fish, Healthy Families” handout to include the latest information on what fish have the lowest levels of mercury. Check out the handout here.