Grab the skim milk, you don’t need extra fat!
Sure, avocadoes are green, but with that much fat, it can’t be good for you.
There’s too much mercury in that, you should skip fish while you’re pregnant.
If you’re like me, you grew up during the ‘low-fat’ era. And if you have older children, it’s very likely you were advised to limit seafood intake during pregnancy due to mercury concerns.
A recommendation to consume large fatty fish seems to go against so much of what we previously heard.
However, in recent years we’ve been hearing more and more about the benefits of healthy fats, including the fats found in seafood.
Can Consuming Seafood Actually Help Your Baby’s Brain?
New research has found a positive correlation between maternal seafood consumption during pregnancy and a child’s neuropsychological development, including a lower risk of autism.
While there’s never been a blanket recommendation to avoid all seafood during pregnancy, there has been recommendations to consume small, occasional servings.
However, many take the warning to consume small portions as a sign it’s best to completely avoid seafood during pregnancy.
Why Are Women Told To Limit Seafood Intake?
Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is present in our environment and found in plants and animals. Industrialisation has increased the amount of airborne mercury which finds its way into lakes, streams and oceans, where it’s consumed by fish.
When there’s too much in the environment and finds its way into water, fish will accumulate high levels of mercury. Large predatory fish have the highest levels as they’re getting mercury from the water as well as from the fish they’re eating.
If a childbearing woman has high levels of mercury, her fetus is at risk for neurodevelopmental problems.
Limiting seafood intake can help reduce the amount of mercury a woman has in her system and thus reduce the risk of exposing her baby to too much.
How Would Eating Seafood Help A Baby’s Brain?
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA are primarily found in certain types of seafood. ALA is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds.
These fats are vital for overall health, but especially for a developing brain.
During the ‘low-fat’ era we were told to stay healthy by avoiding all fats, without realising the real need to avoid unhealthy processed fats, while still consuming adequate amounts of healthy fats.
DHA accounts for 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain. This means that maternal consumption during pregnancy, as well as baby consuming DHA found in breast milk, aids in neurodevelopment.
This particular study found babies whose mothers consumed more fatty fish than the typical 340g per week recommendation had increased neuropsychological scores and a lower risk of autism.
Babies whose mothers consumed around or a little lower than the recommended amounts, even lean fish, still had higher scores and a lower risk of autism, though the differences were higher in the group consuming larger amounts of fatty fish.
The study concluded: “Consumption of large, fatty fish during pregnancy presents moderate child neuropsychological benefits, including improvements in cognitive functioning and some protection from autism-spectrum traits.”
Do The Benefits Of Seafood Outweigh The Mercury Risks?
Too much mercury during pregnancy has been a big concern. The US recommends 340g per week. The European Food Safety Authority recommends 150-600g per week, which is about 1-4 servings.
Participants in this study averaged 498g per week which is over the US recommendation but within the European Food Safety Authority.
Those exceeding the US recommendation had the highest positive correlation, and without seeing negative outcomes from the increased seafood intake.
This study did examine the role of mercury and concluded: “Overall, the present results suggest no adverse associations of high seafood consumption in pregnancy with offspring neurodevelopment.”
The study authors also noted that it’s important to continue research and not ignore the potential risks associated with mercury.
Overall, it appears seafood has many health benefits, but caution should be taken. Limiting high mercury fish intake does seem to be ideal, but we shouldn’t completely avoid seafood.
While there are benefits noted with an increase in fish consumption, it’s not significant enough to outweigh all potential risks and consume large amounts without concern.
Can You Get DHA And EPA Without Consuming Fish?
There are few plant based sources of DHA and EPA, aside from seaweed and algae. However, once omega-3 is in the body, it is converted into DHA and EPA.
Vegans, as well as others avoiding seafood, need to rely on their body’s ability to convert omega-3s into these very needed healthy fats. Consuming adequate sources of plant based omega-3 is vital.
However, it’s also vital to have an appropriate balance of other fats and nutrition to be sure your body can properly convert omega-3s.
To find the right balance, it may be ideal to speak with a nutritionist to help ensure you’re getting adequate sources of healthy fats if you’re not consuming any seafood. A vegan and vegetarian diet can meet a human’s nutritional needs, but it is important to be sure you’re getting adequate nutrition.
Though for perspective, the standard American diet, though filled with animal based products, can be deficient in much needed nutrition if a person isn’t focusing on a properly balanced diet.
What Does This Study Mean For Pregnant Women?
Essentially, we know there are benefits to consuming seafood. We also know there are risks associated with high mercury levels.
We need more research to be sure about safe levels, but based on this large cohort study, the European Food Safety Association’s current recommendation appears to be safe and with benefit.