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I have been convinced that fish would be a perfect blog topic ever since I returned from a recent trip to San Francisco. Let me assure you that my newfound determination to focus your attention on fish was not triggered by my proximity to Fisherman’s Wharf, but rather by what was discussed in the city by the bay at a meeting of pregnancy and newborn nutrition experts. The topic, which warranted a full day of discussion, was the fact that pregnant and breastfeeding women should be eating more fish.

That’s right – I didn’t say less fish. I said most pregnant and breastfeeding women should be eating more fish. And this recommendation not only comes from an esteemed group of experts in perinatal nutrition, but from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Now this recommendation in and of itself wouldn’t necessarily warrant a blog post, except for the fact that just about everyone seems to believe that pregnant women should avoid eating fish altogether because of the risk of mercury exposure. More than an isolated few also (mistakenly) believe that everyone should significantly limit their fish consumption. And therein lies the problem.

You see, back in 2004, the FDA released guidelines clearly stating that “fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well balanced diet that includes a variety of fish can contribute to heart health and children’s proper growth and development. So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.” At the same, however, the FDA also offered some cautionary advice about how to limit the risk of mercury exposure from eating fish by simply recommending that pregnant and breastfeeding women consume no more than 12 ounces of fish per week. While the American public seemed to have no problem digesting the information that fish may contain methylmercury, far too many completely missed the part about the benefits of eating fish –for pregnant and breastfeeding women, for their babies, and for all of us.

And that brings us to what has been referred to as “the fish paradox.” Once known as brain food because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients, fish has suffered an undeserved fall from grace. It is for this reason that I am committed to clarifying what we know about fish, its benefits, the issue of mercury, and what current dietary guidelines recommend when it comes to fish consumption. While you probably have heard of the mercury risk associated with eating seafood, I want to make sure to leave all of you – but especially those of you who are new or expectant moms – with a very healthy respect for the risks of not eating seafood and the following fish-food for thought.

Let them eat fish! Compelling evidence tells us that eating fish during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can improve brain development in babies, and even potentially decrease a woman’s risk of preterm labor and post-partum depression.

Simply avoid four types of fish. Instead of struggling to remember which fish contain less mercury, just make it a point to remember that there are only four higher-containing fish to avoid: Tilefish, Shark, Swordfish and King Mackerel.

Make fish a part of your weekly diet. The 2011 Dietary Guidelines reinforce the recommendation that pregnant and breastfeeding women should make an effort to eat 8 to 12 ounces of seafood a week – an amount currently being consumed by fewer than 20 percent of new and expectant mothers.

Fear not the fish. Unless you are pregnant, planning on becoming pregnant, or breastfeeding, then you should also know that the recommendation to limit seafood consumption doesn’t apply to you. What does apply to you is the fact that the 2011 Dietary Guidelines recommend we could all benefit nutritionally by increasing the amount of fish in our diets!

Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska