Fish and Mercury Warning for Kids and Pregnant Women

Grilled fish with green beans

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Parents have known for some time that it may not be safe to eat fish.

Fish and High Levels of Mercury

In contrast to the health effects for most other people, because of high levels of methylmercury, certain types of fish can be a dangerous, high-risk food for young children, women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, and nursing mothers.

An advisory from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has helped to make fish a safe part of your child's diet.

Why eat fish if it might contain mercury? According to the FDA, "fish and shellfish contain high-quality ​protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids."

Eating Fish With Mercury

The latest advisory includes the same warnings you have likely heard in the past about fish with high levels of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. However, they expand the warnings to include other types of fish, including tuna, which your kids may like to eat. Specifically, the advisory states that women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children should:

  • Not eat any shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish
  • Eat only two average servings (6 ounces per serving for adults, but less for kids) a week of fish that are lower in mercury, including shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Since albacore ('white') tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna, you should eat only up to six ounces of albacore tuna each week. You should also only eat up to six ounces of tuna steak each week.
  • Eat only up to six ounces per week of fish you catch in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas, but don't consume any other fish during that week, unless local advisories state that the fish are low in mercury and that it is safe to eat more

In addition to eating tuna, your younger child is likely to eat fish sticks and fast-food fish sandwiches. These are usually made from fish that are low in mercury and would count against the two meals of fish and shellfish that you can eat each week.

Since fish and shellfish can be an important part of a healthy and balanced diet for kids and adults, it is important to not simply stop eating fish altogether because of your fear of mercury. Just keep the warnings in mind when planning your child's diet and don't exceed the recommended number of servings of fish each week.

And remember, that although a single serving of fish for an adult is about six ounces, it is only about two or three ounces for a small child between the ages of two and six years old.

2 Sources
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  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Advice about Eating Fish For Women Who Are or Might Become Pregnant, Breastfeeding Mothers, and Young Children.

  2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Questions & Answers from the FDA/EPA Advice about Eating Fish for Women Who Are or Might Become Pregnant, Breastfeeding Mothers, and Young Children.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.