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Many pregnant women avoid eating fish because they're worried about possible mercury contamination. While it's true most fish contains some level of mercury, researchers at the University of Southern California found that the benefits to babies of eating a moderate amount of fish during pregnancy outweighed the risks posed by mercury.
The researchers collected data on 800 pregnant women in Europe, recording their fish consumption during pregnancy, and testing the levels of mercury in their blood. Later, they measured the metabolic health of the women's children once they reached between 6 and 12 years old.
Metabolic health measurements indicate a person's long-term risk for cardiovascular disease and other problems such as diabetes and stroke. The researchers collected measurements of the kids' waistlines, blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin levels, among other readings.
Children whose moms ate fish one to three times per week while pregnant with them had better metabolic health than kids whose moms ate fish less often during pregnancy, the researchers reported in JAMA Network Open.
But eating more than three servings of fish a week while pregnant is probably not a good idea, the researchers concluded. They found that excessive fish consumption correlated with higher blood levels of mercury in the moms – and poorer metabolic health in their kids.
"Fish can be a common route of exposure to certain chemical pollutants which can exert adverse effects," said Nikos Stratakis, one of the study authors. "It is possible that when women eat fish more than three times a week, that pollutant exposure may counterbalance the beneficial effects of fish consumption seen at lower intake levels."
Fish contain two key nutrients – omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA – that are important for your own health during pregnancy and your baby's brain development. These nutrients are difficult to find in other foods.
Experts recommend eating two to three 4-ounce servings a week of low-mercury seafood (that's 8 to 12 ounces total). And read up on what types of fish to avoid.
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