According to a study published Friday February 16, 2007 in the British journal The Lancet, pregnant women who eat 12 or more ounces of fish per week have children with higher IQ’s. The study found that pregnant women who ate on average more than 340 grams of fish per week had children with IQ scores significantly higher than those who ate less fish during pregnancy.
In the U.S. more than 340 grams of fish per week is equivalent to eating 1 ½ to 2 servings of fish in the typical U.S. restaurant. A 3-ounce serving is about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of playing cards and is equivalent to approximately 85 grams. The typical chain restaurant in the U.S. serve 8-10 ounces of fish as an entre whereas higher end restaurants typically serve 6 ounces. Six ounces of fish is 170 grams and eight ounces is 227 grams. A crab cake is about 70 grams and a single fish stick about 25 grams and typically most Americans would eat a couple of crab cakes or 4-6 fish sticks in a meal. Therefore, most Americans could easily eat the amount of fish found to be associated with higher IQ children if they eat the typical U.S. serving of fish twice a week.
Due to concerns about mercury exposure the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) had previously jointly issued the following fish consumption recommendations for women who are of childbearing age, pregnant or lactating and young children.
1. Do not eat shark, swordfish, King mackerel, or tilefish.
2. They may eat up to two 6-ounce (170 grams) portions per week of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
3. If they chose two meals of fish and shellfish in a week,
they may eat one meal of (canned) albacore tuna per week.
4. When eating local sport fish, check local advisories. If no advice is available and they are eating up to 6 ounces (170 grams) a week of locally caught sport fish then they should not consume any other fish that week.
These recommendations may be in question. It is accepted that it is safe to eat up to 12 ounces of fish known to be low in mercury like shrimp, salmon, canned light tuna and catfish during pregnancy. However, it is generally advised that albacore tuna should be limited to no more than 6 ounces a week during pregnancy because of concerns about higher levels of mercury. Dr. Gary Meyers in an editorial in the same issue of the Lancet suggests that there is little science to support the FDA’s recommendation that seafood should be limited during pregnancy.
Since in the U.S., we have the government to thank for a food pyramid that promotes large amounts of grain in the diet that is clearly toxic to millions of people, it should be no surprise that their recommendation against eating fish during pregnancy may be contradictory to promoting healthy brains in babies. Eating a couple of servings of fish a week or taking daily fish oil capsules has numerous health advantages. We will explore this further in a future issue of the Food Doc Journal. However, for now, this new study indicates that the benefit to the IQ of babies from eating fish may outweigh any concerns about mercury poisoning. So eat some brain food. Eat fish and seafood several times a week. If you don't care for it then take fish oil capsules.
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Reference: Hibbeln, J. The Lancet, Feb. 17, 2007; vol 369: pp 578-585