Groups praise updated US government seafood guidance

Published on
July 9, 2019

U.S. seafood groups are lauding an updated government guidance that encourages pregnant and breastfeeding women and children to eat more seafood.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is updating its 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in 2017, which recommends that Americans eat at least eight ounces of seafood per week, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. While FDA did not increase the amount of seafood adults should eat, it is emphasizing the nutritional benefits – particularly to pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as children – of eating at least eight ounces of seafood weekly.

The agency also aims to help consumers who should limit their exposure to mercury choose from the many types of fish that are lower in mercury – “including ones commonly found in grocery stores, such as salmon, shrimp, pollock, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod,” the FDA said in a press release. 

However, “it is important to note that women who might become pregnant, or who are pregnant or breastfeeding – along with young children – should avoid the few types of commercial fish with the highest levels of mercury listed on the chart,” FDA said.

FDA’s seafood mercury advice chart, which includes “Best Choices,” “Good Choices,” and “Choices to Avoid,” remains unchanged from 2017. “Choices to Avoid” include king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish (Gulf of Mexico), and bigeye tuna.

“The new advice is important because we see a real emphasis, right at the top, on delivering an encouraging consumption message that is in line with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Turning a message about the importance of seafood for pregnant women into an understandable and encouraging narrative is important,” Lynsee Fowler, communications manager for the National Fisheries Institute, told SeafoodSource.

FDA data show that pregnant women eating, on average, 1.89 ounces of seafood weekly. “FDA’s target is, in some cases, six times as much seafood as pregnant women are currently eating,” Fowler added.

The guidance delivers simple messages, such as: “Pregnant women should eat two to three seafood meals per week.”

“It’s simple, but powerful, and makes seafood more accessible,” Fowler said.

Linda Cornish, president of Seafood Nutrition Partnership, told SeafoodSource her organization would like to see more messages around the critical health benefits for eating seafood for neurocognitive development for unborn babies, Cornish said.

However, Cornish called the update to the guidelines “A good first step to encouraging pregnant moms to eat more seafood for the health of moms and their babies.”

The FDA’s revised advice highlights the many nutrients found in fish, several of which have important roles in growth and development during pregnancy and early childhood, Cornish said. The new guidelines also highlight the potential health benefits of eating fish as part of a healthy eating pattern, particularly for improving heart health and lowering the risk of obesity.

“Fish and shellfish are an important part of a well-rounded diet. However, we know many consumers worry about mercury in fish and even choose to limit or avoid fish because of this concern. In fact, we have seen that women in the U.S. who are pregnant are consuming far less than the recommended amount of seafood,” Susan Mayne, the director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a press release.

With the updated guidance, FDA’s goal is to “make sure Americans are equipped with this knowledge so that they can reap the benefits of eating fish, while choosing types of fish that are safe for them and their families to eat,” Mayne added.

However, since there is such a nutritional deficit among pregnant women, FDA needs to follow up this updated advice with a strategy, Fowler said. 

“Whether it’s to increase consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables or to curb tobacco use, the FDA has plenty of campaigns with clear, measurable goals and with the eight- to 12-ounce target, seafood consumption by pregnant women has one as well,” Fowler said. “Members of Congress should insist that FDA achieve the targets laid out in this advice. They should be acquainted with the plan and timed, measurable goals should be set. It is an important and achievable public health operation.”

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