NEW YORK - The federal government is providing new advice to parents and pregnant women about eating fish.
The FDA and EPA issued a report breaking it down into three categories: best choices, good choices, and choices to avoid. They also advise how often you should eat each type of fish.
The advice is geared toward helping women who are pregnant or may become pregnant - as well as breastfeeding mothers and parents of young children - make informed choices when it comes to fish that are healthy and safe to eat.
Fish in the "best choices" category make up nearly 90 percent of fish eaten in the United States.
An FDA analysis of fish consumption data found that 50 percent of pregnant women surveyed ate fewer than 2 ounces a week, far less than the amount recommended.
Because the nutritional benefits of eating fish are important for growth and development during pregnancy and early childhood, the agencies are advising and promoting a minimum level of fish consumption for these groups.
The advice recommends 2-3 servings of lower-mercury fish per week, or 8 to 12 ounces. However, all fish contain at least traces of mercury, which can be harmful to the brain and nervous system if a person is exposed to too much of it over time, the agencies said.
The maximum level of consumption recommended in the final advice is consistent with the previous recommended level of 12 ounces per week.
For adults, a typical serving is 4 ounces of fish, measured before cooking. Serving sizes for children should be smaller and adjusted for their age and total calorie needs. It is recommended that children eat fish once or twice a week, selected from a variety of fish types.
"Fish are an important source of protein and other nutrients for young children and women who are or may become pregnant, or are breastfeeding. This advice clearly shows the great diversity of fish in the U.S. market that they can consume safely," said FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Stephen Ostroff, M.D.
When updating the advice, the agencies took a cautious and highly protective approach to allow consumers to enjoy the benefits of fish while avoiding those with higher levels of mercury, which is especially important during pregnancy and early childhood.
The updated advice cautions parents of young children and certain women to avoid seven types of fish that typically have higher mercury levels: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico; shark; swordfish; orange roughy; bigeye tuna; marlin; and king mackerel.
For fish caught recreationally, consumers are urged to check for local advisories where they are fishing and gauge their fish consumption based on any local and state advisories for those waters. If no information on fishing advisories is available, eat just one fish meal a week from local waters and also, avoid other fish that week.
For more information, visit: FDA.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm