For years, we've heard about the potential hazards of eating fish with high mercury levels. Now, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have teamed up to tell us what's safe and what's not.
If you are pregnant, Dr. David Acheson has some warnings before you hit the raw bar one more time or order more surf with your turf. The director of the Food Safety and Security Staff at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm the most important thing to remember is that fish has a lot of nutrients but women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers and young children should stay away from certain fish and shellfish.
He says, "The FDA and EPA have put out advice that recommend fish that is low in mercury, such as salmon, catfish, pollock, shrimp and canned light tuna. We warn people to avoid shark and swordfish and tilefish and king mackerel. It's about gaining the nutrition benefits of fish and avoiding the mercury that's present in fish."
High mercury levels particularly affect the development of the fetus, Acheson explains. "What studies have shown is very high exposure of mercury can hurt the developing child in the mother's womb so our advice is to maximize the benefit and minimize the risk," he says.
The FDA and U.S. EPA also recommend eating up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. "We encourage people to do that because of the nutrition benefits from fish," Acheson says.
Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
"What we know about mercury is it tends to build up in the larger type of fish like swordfish and shark. Albacore tuna have higher levels of mercury in them," Acheson explains, "There is a difference between the canned light and the albacore which is a little bit higher."
So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
Nursing mothers should also stick with these recommendations as well as young children. Acheson says, "It's important to continue to feed fish to young children." Just serve small portions.
He also advises consumers to check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.
The FDA recommends that consumers eat a balanced diet, choosing a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables, foods that are low in trans fat and saturated fat, as well as foods rich in high-fiber grains and nutrients. Fish and shellfish can be an important part of this diet.