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Federal Committee Revisits Pregnancy Tuna Debate

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By Anisa Arsenault, Associate Editor
Updated January 30, 2017
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The great debate has been reopened.

Once again, how much  tuna pregnant women should eat is up in the air. In June, the FDA proposed pregnant women should eat between 8-12 ounces of low-mercury fish per week, which can include light canned tuna (but only up to 6 oz. of tuna). But by August, Consumer Reports sided against the FDA, urging pregnant women not to eat any tuna at all. They cited the risk of high-mercury seafood on babies’ brains and nervous systems, along with the lack of clarity surrounding low-mercury options.

What’s the latest development? A federal panel, the  Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, backed the current FDA guidelines, instructing pregnant women to avoid tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. But they withheld an official ruling on tuna, simply suggesting pregnant women can eat more white albacore, and recommending the FDA and EPA “re-evaluate” their stance.

“The goal of the dietary guidelines is to give people a healthy way to eat and not to include or exclude certain foods,” Steve Abrams, MD, tells the New York Times. “The benefit of having (omega-3 fatty acids) in your diet really exceeds the likely risk of contamination. The point is that you should have a variety of types of seafood and not limit yourself to one type, and variety includes canned tuna.”

Panel members said that even when pregnant women ate twice as much as of the weekly amount of recommended tuna, benefits outweighed the risk. “All evidence was in favor of net benefits for infant development and (cardiovascular disease) risk reduction,” they said.

Still, separate advocacy groups are calling for increased warnings about mercury risks on tuna packaging. The panel ultimately is calling for a re-evaluation of tuna guidelines during pregnancy. In the meantime, do try to intake other types of low-mercury seafood; it’s proven to boost baby’s brain development.

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