Avoid mercury exposure in fish especially when you are pregnant or even expecting to be expecting.  Mercury is a chemical that can cause serious health problems in any person, but it is especially dangerous for pregnant women and children; even small amounts can interfere with brain development.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency conservatively estimates that more than 75,000 babies are born each year with an increased risk of learning disabilities because of in utero mercury exposure.  

Before scientists became aware of just how toxic this metal is, it was used in medicines, cosmetics, and industries like hatmaking.  Remember the mad hatter?  He is the character in Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, who was crazily strange!  You’ve probably also heard the lighthearted conversational phrase, “mad as a hatter,” which suggests that a person is suffering from insanity.  The “mad hatter syndrome” was actually an occupational disease common among hatmakers in the 1900’s as a result of that trade’s long-term use of mercury.  Long-term exposure was characterized by slurred speech, tremors, stumbling and even hallucinations in severe cases of poisoning.     

Fish is a fantastic source of healthy fats and healthy fats are essential for your baby’s brain development.  So what are people talking about when they say that expectant mothers should avoid eating this versatile protein?  Contaminated fish are the number one source of mercury exposure in the United States.  Factory pollution can travel around the world and settle in lakes and rivers where it is ingested by small organisms.  These small creatures are then eaten by larger fish, and the amount of mercury concentrates on up the food chain.  Big predatory fish like sharks or tuna can have an extremely high concentration of mercury in their bodies.  

START SOMEWHERE with these strategies to decrease mercury exposure in your world.  Since size matters when choosing fish, here are some key points to remember:

Enjoy these small fish that have the least mercury:

  • Salmon
  • Anchovies
  • Sardines
  • Scallops
  • Butterfish
  • Catfish
  • Crabs (domestic)
  • Atlantic Croaker
  • Crawfish/Crayfish
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Hake
  • Herring
  • Oyster
  • Pollock
  • Trout (freshwater)

Avoid these large fish that are higher up on the food chain:

  • Tuna – Ahi Tuna and Bigeye Tuna
  • Shark
  • Marlan
  • Orange Roughy (darn it!)
  • Swordfish
  • King Mackerel
  • Tilefish
  • Seabass (double darn it!)

When in doubt, remember that smaller fish are safer to eat and they provide essential fatty acids that are important for brain development. You can’t taste or smell mercury in fish and cooking has no effect on it.  Mercury exposure is now a serious and widespread health problem for people of all ages but it is especially important to avoid mercury exposure in fish before and during pregnancy and when you are breastfeeding.  LIVE YOUNGER by knowing how to navigate in our current environment.  You can do it.  I will help you.

Avoid Mercury Exposure in Fish

Avoid Mercury Exposure in Fish