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New Guidelines Out for Eating Fresh Fish

Pregnant women are encouraged to eat a moderate amount of fish under new federal guidelines. (CDC)
Pregnant women are encouraged to eat a moderate amount of fish under new federal guidelines. (CDC)
January 26, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Good news for people who love fresh fish.

Two U.S. agencies have released new advice on how much and which types of fish are safe to eat – especially for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency say more than 90 percent of fish are safe to eat.

The agencies have categorized more than 60 types of fish and shellfish as best, good or choices to avoid.

Elizabeth Southerland, director of science and technology at the EPA's Office of Water, says fish that are safe to eat contain essential nutrients and fatty acids that are beneficial for pregnant women.

"They're a high quality source of protein, which is especially important for fetal development and for young children,” she points out. “Again, the only concern we have about eating a lot of fish is if you're eating a lot of fish that's high in mercury."

The agencies recommend two to three servings a week from the "best choices" category and only one serving from the list of "good choices."

The recommended serving size is 4 ounces – or about the size your palm – for adults, and 2 ounces for children ages 4 to 7 years old.

The new guidelines are a shift from earlier messaging, when federal agencies advised the public about the dangers of eating too much fish.

Now, Southerland says federal agencies want to highlight a more positive message – even suggesting pregnant women or women who may become pregnant eat a minimum of 8 ounces of fish a week.

"FDA did an analysis of fish consumption back in 2005, and pregnant women ate fewer than 2 ounces a week,” she relates. “And that's a shame because again, it is a high nutrition source, with nutrients and high quality protein."

Southerland says as a general rule, fish that live longer tend to accumulate more mercury in their tissue and should be avoided.

Some of those on the list to avoid include shark, swordfish and bigeye tuna.

Many states also publish guidelines about where it's safe, or not, to catch and consume fish from local waters.


Veronica Carter/Scott Herron, Public News Service - IL