The fish-eating conundrum

Think you've got the guidelines straight for pregnant women's fish consumption? Think again.

Published October 5, 2007 3:00PM (EDT)

Thursday, the Washington Post announced yet another panel of experts who offered yet another set of guidelines for fish consumption -- targeting pregnant and breast-feeding women and young children.

Now, according to the new guidelines, this vulnerable group is supposed to eat at least 12 ounces of seafood every day. This breaks from the Food and Drug Administration guidelines issued in 2001 and again in 2004 that pregnant women et al. eat no more than 12 ounces of fish a week because of worries about rising mercury exposure. Since then scientists and different government bodies have quibbled with such limitations. A Lancet study suggested that at age 8 the children of U.S. women who stayed within the FDA recommendations during pregnancy had lower IQs and more behavioral issues than the children of women who ate more than 12 ounces a week. The new pro-fish guidelines come from the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition -- which includes the American Academy of Pediatrics and the March of Dimes, as well as federal agencies like the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They cite studies that a lack of omega-3 fatty acids (the superfood found in fish) is associated with premature birth and postnatal depression.

The ebb and flow of the fish advisories combined with the environmental guidelines vis-à-vis fish purchases has put me in a Seussian tizzy:

More fish, less fish
Wild fish, fresh fish
Some fish will brawn baby's brain
Others make you both insane.
Swordfish may be thought quite fancy
But mercury makes it oh so chancy.
Sardines swarm highly recommended
Salmon's benefits can be quite splendid
Though the pink from farms carry PCBs
Another poison during infancy!
From the sea, or from the rivers
Toxins congregate in kidneys and livers.

Reeling? Crabby? I sure am
If tempted to forswear all but Spam.
One can cry fowl and pop pills of mackerel oil
Until your burp-backs make friends recoil.

For those who'd prefer an unrhyming assessment of the fish-eating conundrum, paddle over here.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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