Many women avoid eating fish during pregnancy due to the risk of harming their baby. Let’s determine what are fishy myths and what are facts….
- You shouldn’t eat fish during pregnancy to avoid listeria – FALSE!
Listeria is a bacteria that can cause infection when ingested, and is found in the environment in soil and marine areas. Listeriosis (infection from listeria) can result in miscarriage during pregnancy. It is true that fish is a risky food for carrying listeria bacteria due to its presence in marine environments, but it’s important to remember that listeria is killed with heat. By cooking the fish the bacteria will no longer be harmful, so pregnant women need only avoid raw fish, such as in sushi, and use hygienic cooking practices to protect themselves against listeria.
- Avoid eating fish during pregnancy because it contains harmful mercury – FALSE!
It is true that high levels of mercury can be harmful to an unborn baby’s development, but this doesn’t mean pregnant women should avoid fish entirely. Pregnant women should be selective of the types of fish they eat, as some fish contain more mercury than others. This is due to their size, location, habitat and diet because mercury is taken up by the fish from their environment and what they eat. Fish high in mercury include shark (flake), ray, swordfish, barramundi, gemfish, orange roughy, ling and southern bluefin tuna. Safer fish with lower mercury levels include salmon and canned tuna. Unlike with listeria, mercury isn’t affected by cooking techniques like heating, so it’s important to focus on how much mercury is in the type of fish you choose. Focus on telling your patients which types they should eat instead of the varieties they should avoid. Australian guidelines recommend that during pregnancy, women should limit their intake of high mercury fish to one 150g serve per fortnight, with no additional fish eaten that fortnight.
It might be helpful to show your patients my video about ‘The 4 best Fish to Eat During Pregnancy’ as a resource about which fish are safest to eat.
- Fish is the best source of Omega 3 – TRUE!
Fish contains high concentrations of Omega 3 fatty acids. Some varieties such as Australian salmon and mackerel provide more than 500mg of omega 3’s per serve, making them very rich sources for the amount of food consumed. Many people argue that fish is not the only good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, as plant foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds also provide good amounts. However, the type of Omega 3 in these plant sources don’t provide the same quality fatty acids or the health benefits that come with them. Fish contains long-chain Omega 3 fatty acids, which provide the valuable health outcomes, whereas plant sources contain only short-chains and only 5% of all the short chain fatty acids consumed are converted to long-chains. This is why fish is the best source of Omega 3, especially during pregnancy. Long-chain Omega 3’s are very important for the development of the baby’s eyesight and the fatty acids are transferred to the child via breastmilk, so fish consumption should be continued throughout breastfeeding, with the same precautions. They have also been linked to reducing premature delivery, which is super important to allow the child to grow as much a possible before birth.
- It’s safe to eat fish during pregnancy – TRUE!
It is absolutely safe to eat fish during pregnancy if it is fully cooked, has been prepared with hygienic practices and isn’t too high in mercury. There are many health benefits to eating fish, especially during pregnancy, so by taking the correct pre-cautions mentioned above, the risk of pregnant women and their child developing adverse effects are small.
If you have any questions about fish consumption or other nutritional queries for pregnant women, don’t hesitate to contact us at Nutrition Plus.
Author: Melanie McGrice is one of Australia’s best known dietitians. She is a highly respected author and health presenter on nutrition and dietary issues – and a lover of great food! Join her free nutrition and wellbeing network at www.melaniemcgrice.com.au or like her on Facebook www.facebook.com/MelanieMcGriceDietitian