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Eating fish presents difficult dilemmas (I evaluate them in five chapters of What to Eat).
This one is about asking pregnant women to weigh the benefits of fish-eating against the hazards of their toxic chemical contaminants to the developing fetus.
The Dietary Guidelines tell pregnant women to eat 2-to-3 servings of low-mercury fish per week (actually, it’s methylmercury that is of concern, but the FDA calls it mercury and I will too).
But to do that, pregnant women have to:
Only a few fish, all large predators, are high in mercury. The FDA advisory says these are:
What? This list leaves off the fifth large predator: Albacore (white) tuna. This tuna has about half the mercury as the other four, but still much more than other kinds of fish.
The figure below comes from the Institute of Medicine’s fish report. It shows that fish highest in omega-3 fatty acids, the ones that are supposed to promote neurological development in the fetus and cognitive development in infants, are also highest in mercury.
White tuna is the line toward the bottom. The ones in the blue boxes are all much lower in omega-3s and in mercury except for farmed Atlantic salmon (high in omega-3s, very low in mercury).
What’s going on here?
I think it is absurd to require pregnant women to know which fish to avoid. In supermarkets, fish can look pretty much alike and you cannot count on fish sellers to know the differences.
That’s fish politics, for you.
The FDA documents: