Guest post by Kendra Goff, PhD, DABT, State Toxicologist for the Florida Department of Health.
As an expecting mom, tailoring my diet to the health of my baby-to-be seemed daunting. There are so many inherent “can’ts” and shouldn’ts” during pregnancy and I didn’t want to take any dietary missteps that could hurt my baby later. For many women, one of the confusing points about diet during pregnancy comes in the question of seafood.
My pregnancy has let me empathize with how confusing it can be for any mom or mom-to-be to clearly tell the difference between which fish are safe to eat and which fish are advised to be avoided—before, during and after pregnancy. With a constant flood of conflicting information about the dangers of mercury-laden fish, many of us want to throw our hands up in frustration and ward fish off altogether (which is exactly what we at DOH absolutely don’t want to happen!)
As an avid sushi eater and lover, I was most concerned about having to forgo my Japanese favorite—and luckily, I didn’t have to! I was reminded that, with a little education, incorporating the right fish into my diet (in cooked forms) was actually very simple and rewarding. My sushi-craving palette didn’t have to suffer—and neither did the profits of the Japanese restaurant who knows me by name!
Fish bring undeniable health benefits to the table. A variety of low-mercury seafood options provide proteins and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Consistently incorporating fish into your diet before and during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can boost your baby’s intellect and encourage brain and eye development. Some researchers have even suggested that depression experienced during and after pregnancy may result from a lack of fish consumption.
During both my pregnancies, I couldn’t help but smile during my healthy nutrition discussion with my OB-GYN when she handed me a wallet card produced by DOH, clearly detailing nutritional information about low-mercury seafood. I immediately recognized several of my favorites in the “Low Mercury” category, including clam, catfish, crab, herring, oyster, scallops, shrimp, tilapia and tuna, with a recommended consumption of 12 ounces a week. Salmon, one of the healthiest seafood options, can provide the recommended amount of omega-3s in as few as 6 ounces a week.
Even in my current position of State Toxicologist, that wallet card remains a regular guest at my restaurant outings and the grocery store, clearly and easily reminding me which fish are best for my diet and for my family’s meals. I encourage others – women who are currently expecting or planning to get pregnant and all women of childbearing age–to print out our “Fish for Your Health” wallet card and find the many fish that are right for you.
You may be making sacrifices during your pregnancy, but don’t let seafood be one of them! Remember these three elements to snag your fish-friendly diet: consume a variety of fish; find fish that are relatively low in mercury; and the most important of all–incorporate them into your diet!