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A Mercurial Tail of Two Fishes

A Mercurial Tail of Two Fishes

Salmon is on chart of preferred fish for pregnant women.

October 23, 2007 —

This past summer a group of 14 scientists—known as the Maternal Nutrition Group— met for one day in Chicago to write new recommendations on mothers-to-be eating fish. Drawing on five years of research (beginning 2002, a year after a major mercury in fish warning and two years after the next warning in 2004) into the health pluses and minuses of fish-eating, the Group pronounced that it was good for pregnant women to eat at least 12 ounces of fish a week.

The National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition bear-hugged that determination and came out with their matching recommendation. The problem: the good scientists were on the payroll of the National Fisheries Institute (including all expenses paid). And the Mothers, Babies Coalition hit up the NFI for $60,000 to fund a web site promoting the recommendation.

The federal government says that 12 ounces is the most one should have in a week. However, despite the ethical point of scientists-in-your-back-pocket, there is valid and persuasive evidence that fish, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, really is very, very good for pregnant mother and developing child. The fatty acids contribute to the fetal brain development, leading to higher IQ and cognitive performance. For the mother, the fatty acids act as good-mood enhancers, reducing depression and postpartum depression.

The mercury is still a problem, but it is confined largely to larger fish. Smaller the fish, less likely there is mercury, or the mercury content is very low. Physician Gina Solomon, of the Natural Resources Defense Council says the benefits of Omega-3’s are a slam dunk. Almost all informed, unbiased physicians and scientists advise two good meals of fish a week. The choice for ethical shopping boils down to finding the right fish species that have the greatest benefit and the lowest risk of methyl mercury. Best choices are: salmon, sardines, tilapia, anchovies, shrimp and light tuna, not albacore.

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