Why are Fish Such Important Food for Pregnant Women?

After so many articles and news reports indicating that fish may contain unsafe levels of mercury, it seems odd to hear that doctors are encouraging pregnant women to eat fish, and quite a lot of it.  What has made them change their mind in regards to fish as a good food for pregnant women?  The answer lies in the nutritional advantages of fish and recent studies.

What does Fish Contain that Makes it Good Food for Pregnant Women?
The concerns about fish revolve around mercury content.  While many fish absorb small amounts of mercury during their life, when it is transferred to us, it accumulates in a permanent manner. 

Elevated levels of mercury can have a negative effect upon the nervous system, and for a developing baby, those effects have the potential of being very serious.

On the other hand, the fatty acids found in the same fish, promote neurological development.  In fact, they don’t only promote brain development, they are essential to it.  This creates a conflict for scientists and doctors.

As fish contains both toxins and essential nutrients, instating regulations, especially for pregnant women has proven challenging.  To date the recommendations involve staying away from fish that are known to contain unsafe levels of mercury, while permitting reasonable quantities of other fish.

What the Studies say
While experts agree that more study is needed, research to date hasn’t indicated that eating fish causes any problems during pregnancy.  Of course, strong recommendations against eating fishes known to contain unsafe levels of mercury exist and are generally followed. 

However, one of the most interesting findings has to do with the effects of eating fish during pregnancy and children’s intelligence.

Smarter Kids?  Could be.
In a very large study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, and published in the Lancet journal of medicine, women who ate more fish had smarter kids.

Nearly 12,000 women were questioned during their pregnancies about their eating habits.  Mothers who ate at least 12 ounces of seafood weekly during their pregnancy had children who performed better on a variety of tests that measured intelligence, coordination and communication skills.

The study continued for 8 years after the children were born, a reasonably long period.  Of course, as the study depended upon the mothers self reporting what they ate, the results are not considered conclusive, but they are certainly very interesting. 

These results imply that fish are good food for pregnant women who want smart children–which (I hope) is all of us!

Fish aren’t Just Good Food for Pregnant Women–They Taste Good, Too!
Just about everyone enjoys some form of seafood or fish.  If true fish aren’t your cup of tea, consider eating shrimp, muscles, clams or oysters.  In fact it is best to mix up the types of fish and shellfish you eat anyway, so go ahead and try all sorts of fish out.

Fish is easy to cook–you don’t have to be fancy.  Grill some salmon on the barbeque.  Make paella with a variety of seafood.  Throw some sardines in your lunchbox or shrimp in your salad; it doesn’t take much to reach the recommended 12 ounces. 

I can’t promise you smarter kids, although the research surely implies it, but I can tell you that not only is it safe to eat fish, it is also great food for pregnant women.