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Should Pregnant Women Eat More Tuna?

Canned tuna

Many pregnant women avoid eating tuna for fear of mercury exposure, but a recent study has researchers questioning if the pros of eating the seafood actually outweigh the cons.

As reported in the New York Times, a federal panel recently acknowledged the risk of mercury exposure from specific seafoods, and noted that women who are pregnant, nursing or may become pregnant should avoid certain kinds of fish—tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel—because they contain a high mercury content. But the panel withheld a recommendation on white albacore tuna, which is typically canned, suggesting that agencies like the FDA and EPA re-evaluate their stance on the food's consumption by pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The current FDA and EPA guidelines warn pregnant and nursing women to limit tuna consumption to six ounces per week. But the panel wrote that "all evidence was in favor of net benefits for infant development and (cardiovascular disease) risk reduction" for women ate double the recommended weekly amount of tuna, according to the Times.

"The benefit of having [omega-3 fatty acids] in your diet really exceeds the likely risk of contamination," Dr. Steve Abrams, a panel member involved in the seafood recommendations and medical director of the Neonatal Nutrition Program at Baylor College of Medicine, told the Times. He noted that women do need to be aware of the types of fish they are eating, but added evidence is strong that fish consumption by mothers is good for the brains of their babies.

"The point is that you should have a variety of types of seafood and not limit yourself to one type—and variety includes canned tuna," Abrams said.

For those who are still wary about eating canned tuna while pregnant, Consumer Reports recommends that those who want more seafood in their diet eat shrimp, scallops, sardines, salmon, oysters, squid and tilapia as the lowest-mercury seafood.

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