The American Heart Association recommends everyone eat at least two servings of fish a week to get important omega-3 fatty acids that help maintain a healthy heart. However, when you’re pregnant, you need to be careful about the type of fish you’re eating. Some carry a greater risk of mercury contamination and may pose a risk to a developing fetus.
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Mercury is an element found in air, water and soil that can cause brain and kidney damage at high levels. When mercury settles in water, it can work its way up the food chain and accumulate in fish and shellfish. Since pregnant women can pass the mercury they consume to their babies, pregnant women are advised to avoid large, predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish that are more likely to have higher levels of mercury.
The Natural Resources Defense Council rates fish on a scale of highest mercury, high mercury, lower mercury and lowest mercury. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that children, women who are pregnant and women who are trying to become pregnant consume no more than 12 oz. of the lowest mercury fish per week, such as catfish, flounder and tilapia. Freshwater perch falls into the lower mercury category, and the guidelines recommend no more than six, 6-oz. servings per month.
There’s no need to avoid perch entirely while you’re pregnant just because of concerns about contamination. Just stay within the safety guidelines. Dr. Roger Harms, a pregnancy specialist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says fish can be a great source of protein and iron, which are crucial nutrients for a baby’s growth and development. He notes that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish also may help to promote brain development in babies.
If you’re pregnant and concerned about eating perch or other seafood, there are a few other guidelines to follow. Don’t eat raw fish or shellfish because you run the risk of ingesting harmful bacteria and viruses. Don’t eat anything caught in polluted waters. Pay attention to local fish advisories. If you’re uncertain about the safety of local fish, limit your intake of all fish that week to just 6 oz. of the local catch. Whether eating perch or other fish, cook it properly. Fish should appear flaky and opaque when done and should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.