Tuna During Pregnancy

In 2004, the U.S. FDA and EPA issued joint guidelines aimed at women who are pregnant, might become pregnant, are nursing mothers and small children recommending that they can safely eat 12 ounces of seafood, such as tuna, per week. These agencies specifically noted that seafood was part of a healthy diet and recommended eating it during pregnancy. The advisory also recommends that these segments of the population can safely eat 6 ounces of albacore tuna, also a lower mercury fish, in their 12 ounces of seafood per week. They offered this guidance not because white albacore is considered a high mercury fish but because of the popularity of tuna and the potential frequency pregnant women might eat it.

Women were cautioned to only to avoid four rarely consumed commercial species during pregnancy: shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish.

Unfortunately, this advisory has had the effect of deterring a seafood deficient nation, and especially pregnant women, to limit or stop eating tuna – something they were not doing enough to begin with. By comparison, Americans eat just slightly more than 16 pounds of fish a year per capita (vs. 75 pounds of chicken and over 100 pounds of beef). This is only one third the amount of fish health experts suggest we eat for optimum health.
The truth is:

  • The government’s guidelines are ONLY for women who are pregnant, might become pregnant, are nursing mothers and small children – NOT for all consumers.
  • The government’s guidelines are extremely cautious and women who are pregnant, might become pregnant, are nursing mothers and small children are encouraged to eat a variety of seafood and get 12 ounces of fish in their diets weekly.
  • Experts – including the FDA and EPA recommend eating seafood – such as tuna – as part of a healthy diet. The government’s advisory specifically states: “Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children’s proper growth and development. So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.”
  • Experts agree that the health benefits of eating seafood – including tuna – far outweigh theoretical and unproven harm alleged from mercury because eating food like fish which is high in omega-3 fatty acids (and are found in abundance in tuna) are necessary for proper fetal neurodevelopment.

For more information about how incorporating seafood – such as tuna – into your diet can help you and your child before, during and after pregnancy visit the health & nutrition section of this site.

“It is also important to stress that how the U.S. regulates mercury in fish is the most stringent in the world. In large fish-consuming countries like Japan, studies find that women and their offspring aren’t at risk by exceeding the U.S. regulatory standard. That is because we build in a 10-fold safety factor, meaning that if pregnant women and young children follow the government’s advice, they will consume mercury levels that are at least 10 times lower than the lowest level for any known risk.”

— Louis Sullivan M.D.
Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services
President Emeritus, Morehouse School of Medicine
Testimony, Public Media Center vs Triunion Seafoods LLC