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Fish and Mercury Warning

Read About the Latest Guidelines

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Updated September 28, 2011

Parents have known for some time that it may not be safe to eat fish. In contrast to healthy effects for most other people, because of high levels of methylmercury, eating fish can be dangerous for young children, women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. A new advisory from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can help to make fish a safe part of your child's diet.

The latest advisory includes the same warnings you have likely heard in the past about eating 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 new 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, the other types of fish that your younger child is most likely to eat include 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.

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