On June 9, 2014 the FDA announced new guidelines. Per usual these guidelines have been dismissed by some as offering minimal changes and considered significant by others. There was a lot to look at with the new guidelines and I would be remiss if I didn’t state up front that I’m not sure I read everything I needed to in order to make a 100% informed decision. But, that being said, I think there are some important general “take-aways” from what the FDA has offered with the new guidelines and I’d like to address that today.
New FDA Guidelines
It’s been about 10 years since the FDA made any real changes to it’s guidelines regarding pregnant women, nursing mothers, small children, and women who might become pregnant and the consumption of fish. Back then the FDA recommended maximum amounts of fish these people should eat. This month the FDA basically reversed the previous recommendation. The new guidelines recommend a minimum amount of fish that should be eaten. Now the suggestion is 8-12 ounces per week of fish low in mercury in order to promote fetal growth and development.
Some Groups Dismiss FDA & Others Agree
A quick overview of why there are two sides regarding the new FDA guidelines regarding fish. From what I can find groups like the Environmental Working Group feel the recommendations are too vague to prove helpful, are really minimal changes, and that good scientific research exists to prove clearer guidelines. A dietician with the National Fisheries Institute was quoted in the Washington Post saying that the recommendations were “significant and promising”.
Neither is truly a surprise if you look at the groups that are speaking out. Both sides knows there is sufficient evidence to create new FDA guidelines regarding fish. There is very little question today about the benefit of the Omega-3 fatty acids from cold water fish. There is very little question today about the health benefits of EPA & DHA in the formation of brain development in fetuses and children (this is why it’s required to be added in baby formula). There’s very little question today about the benefit of good, high quality protein consumption and that fish is one of the best sources. There is very little question today about the need to minimize the consumption of fish high in mercury as it can potentially damage the neurological development of the fetus, infants, and young children as well as pose a health risk to adults.
So, even though these groups actually agree on a lot included in the new FDA guidelines, one side expects more clarity from the FDA and the others are just happy to no longer be ostracized by the FDA.
Interpreting FDA Guidelines
The question has already been proposed to me about my opinion. Here you go –
- I appreciate that the FDA made the change (I can’t believe that I actually wrote something positive about the FDA!).
- No, I don’t think the new guidelines are clear enough or go far enough but it’s better than scaring women and children away from fish, which is what I feel the old guidelines accomplished.
- I think opponents need to remember that the FDA is a slow moving government agency that have some interesting “partners” helping to make decisions about what is healthy and safe. At least this one moves the US a bit forward, even if it’s only baby steps at least it’s forward momentum.
- Although I like the reminder about mercury I’m surprised there was not any indication about radiation based on the high levels found after Fukushima.
Thinking about getting pregnant, are pregnant, or have young children?
- Definitely eat high quality, cold-water, line-caught, wild fish that is low in mercury. The benefits outweigh the risks. I did when I was pregnant. My son ate fish at a young age, especially salmon, and still does (he’s about to turn 9 years old).
- Check advisories when eating local fish just to make sure the waterway is safe and not contaminated.
- Check Seafood Watch to ensure you making the best choices not only for you and your family but also the planet.
- Skip sushi as the raw product may have bacteria that the body can’t handle during this critical growth period.
- Check all fish is cooked to an appropriate internal temperature – 145 degrees F. It’s worth it to purchase a cooking thermometer in order to check.
- Keep plenty of cultured foods to help build good gut flora to fight any potential allergens in the fish.