Q & AFor Women & Children
Is it true that pregnant women and young children should avoid raw fish?
Yes. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and FDA recommend that pregnant women and young children should only eat foods with seafood, meat, poultry, or eggs that have been cooked to safe internal temperatures. This is to protect them against microbes that might be in those foods. This recommendation includes raw fish served as part of sushi or sashimi (Japanese-style foods). Pregnant women and young children often have weaker immune systems. They are, therefore, more at risk for foodborne illnesses.
Should children eat fish and if so, how much?
Yes, like other protein-rich foods, seafood is good for a child’s growth and development. The FDA recommends serving a variety of fish to children 1-2 times per week. The portion sizes should be smaller than adult portions, as well as right for your child’s age and total calorie needs.
On average, a serving size is:
- about 1 ounce for children ages 2-3 years
- 2 ounces for children ages 4-7 years
- 3 ounces for children ages 8-10 years
- 4 ounces for children 11 years and older
For more information, please see the FDA technical page.
What nutrients are in fish and why are they good for you?
Most seafood is an excellent source of high-quality protein. Fish are also important sources of selenium, zinc, iodine, iron, and other minerals needed by the body. They are natural sources of many B vitamins, and oily fish provide vitamins A and D. Most species are low in fat, and most of the fat that is present in fish is healthy polyunsaturated fat. The polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are also present in many types of fish.
Is there methylmercury in all fish?
Nearly all fish contain at least traces of methylmercury. Fish absorb methylmercury from the food they eat. It tends to build up more in some types of fish than others, especially in larger fish that eat other fish and those fish that live longer.
I eat a lot of canned light tuna because it's affordable. Is this okay?
Yes. Canned light tuna is in the “Best Choices” category. You can eat 2 to 3 servings of light tuna per week. We recommend that you eat a variety of seafood. You may wish to try other affordable species in the “Best Choices” category such as canned salmon or sardines, frozen fish, or other fresh fish that are available at affordable prices in your region.
I'm a woman who could have children, but I'm not pregnant. Why should I follow this advice?
If you could become pregnant in the next year, we encourage you to begin following this advice now.
You should consider eating 2 to 3 servings of a variety of fish each week along with other protein-rich foods. This can help your child’s growth and development. It is important, however, to follow the recommendations for how often you should eat the various fish types. That’s because mercury in fish can accumulate in your body over time. While mercury is removed from the body naturally, the process can take several months. So, following this advice before pregnancy can benefit your developing child, especially during the important first trimester.
At what age can I start giving my child seafood?
Parents can feed fish to young children, but should not feed it to children younger than 6 months of age. Fish, and particularly shellfish, are potential allergens. Parents feeding fish to their children for the first time should monitor for signs of an allergic reaction before feeding any additional fish is given to them.
Can I get the same benefits from Omega-3 supplements as from eating fish?
Omega-3 supplements do not provide protein, vitamins, or minerals. Taking omega-3 supplements instead of eating fish means that you are missing out on the high-quality protein, minerals, and vitamins that are present in fish and beneficial to your overall health.
What are mercury and methylmercury?
Mercury is an element that occurs naturally in the environment. It is also released into the environment through many types of human activity. It can collect in streams, lakes, and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water or sediment. It is this type of mercury that is present in seafood. Methylmercury can be harmful to the brain and nervous system if a person is exposed to too much of it over time.
I eat a lot of tuna, but prefer to eat albacore tuna. Is this okay?
Albacore tuna, also known as white tuna, typically contains three times more mercury than canned light tuna. Albacore or any of the other choices from the “Good Choices” category should be limited to once a week.