The Salt
4:17 pm
Wed November 20, 2013

Moms-To-Be Are Eating Fish, But Choosing Low-Mercury Options

Originally published on Wed November 20, 2013 7:07 pm

It's been a conundrum for pregnant women: Forgo fish out of fears of mercury? Or eat it up to get the benefits of all the vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids found in many types of fish and shellfish?

Increasingly, it seems women of childbearing age are opting for a smarter option: They're eating fish, but avoiding the species that are high in mercury.

The Food and Drug Administration has long advised women of childbearing age who are thinking of becoming pregnant (along with those who are already pregnant or are breast-feeding a newborn) not to eat seafood that's high in mercury, such as swordfish and tilefish.

And it seems lots of moms-to-be have been listening.

According to a new study from the Environmental Protection Agency, the blood mercury levels in women of childbearing age dropped 34 percent in the decade between 2000 and 2010.

And what's more, there's been a 65 percent drop in the percentage of women of childbearing age who have levels of mercury that are considered high enough to be of concern for health reasons.

So the EPA concludes that women are making more informed choices and opting for low-mercury choices such as shrimp, canned light tuna and salmon.

The EPA says women don't seem to be eating less seafood compared with a decade ago. In fact, the amount of fish and shellfish consumed by women of childbearing age changed "very little" during the survey periods between 1999 and 2010.

Most fish and shellfish contain at least trace levels of the heavy metal mercury, according to experts. At very low levels, this mercury content is not thought to be a risk.

But if mercury levels start to escalate, at higher levels the EPA concludes that mercury "may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system."

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