Article Review: Eat More Fish!

This is the article critique I submitted for my pregnancy nutrition class. This covers a very important subject of eating fish while pregnant. Did you eat fish while pregnant? If so, did you follow your doctors recommendation of only two servings a week? What kind of fish did you enjoy?

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A common discussion among pregnant women, their providers and the birthing world in general is whether or not fish is healthy to eat while pregnant and breastfeeding. Consuming fish regularly provides docosahexaenoic, or DHA, plus omega-3 fatty acids which are needed in any healthy diet, especially that of an expecting mother. An article printed by The Telegraph, a British newspaper, titled “Pregnant Women Should Be Allowed to Eat More Fish”, reports that women should be consuming more than the recommended amount of fish during their pregnancy to encourage vital brain development in their unborn baby while also receiving the benefit of this necessary fatty acid.

“Docosahexaenoic acid, an essential fatty acid, [is] thought to be important to the development of infants, particularly [in] regards their eyes and brain” (MedicineNet, 2012). This is a brief definition of DHA and why it is important during pregnancy. Since 2004, the Food Standards Agency along with medical professionals have recommended that women consume no more than two servings of fish per week, or 12 total ounces, which the article acknowledges that recommendation is “ultraconservative” (Gray, 2010). This suggestion is also seen in our text on page 114 which was printed a year after this article was released.

The article goes on to say that women should actually be consuming three portions of fish a week to ensure proper DHA and omega-3 fatty acids intake (Gray, 2010). Our text, unlike the article, describes the types of fish which are higher in mercury content and should be consumed less, if not at all. Those fish include swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and shark, as well as no more than six ounces of “white tuna” a week. There is a danger to the fetus if too much mercury is consumed, however there is a number of other fish with less mercury content and high in DHA.

DHA has been nicknamed a “brain food” of sorts. “Women who consume adequate amounts of EPA and DHA during pregnancy and lactation tend to deliver infants with somewhat higher levels of intelligence, better vision and otherwise more mature central nervous system function than do women who consume low amounts of these fatty acids” (Brown, 2011). The article touches on this topic briefly while also stating that some research has found no correlation with better academic abilities in children later in life (Gray, 2010). Regardless, it is important to emphasize the importance of DHA consumption and how eating fish while pregnant is not nearly as bad as others have made it seem. When I was pregnant with my son, I avoided fish. I was only basing my decision off of what had been recommended to me by my doctor. Also, my husband is highly allergic so avoiding it was not difficult. However, later in my pregnancy I did enjoy a number of salmon meals. I know that I was not receiving an adequate amount of DHA despite taking a daily prenatal vitamin. I have gained a much better perspective on fish and how important it is while pregnant. I will ensure I consume enough DHA next time by taking fish oil and eating more than one serving of fish per week. Our text states that taking fish oil daily is safe and beneficial (Brown, 2011).

The only reference the article makes to data proving that not taking in enough DHA, or the recommended 340 grams per week, showed children were born with a greater risk of having low verbal intelligence (Gray, 2010). How high was that risk? Were these children exposed to any other teratogens while in the womb? Was the mother taking a regular prenatal vitamin? These are all the questions, and more, I asked myself as I read that statement. Studies like this can be a great stepping stone in determining whether or not fish can or should be consumed while pregnant. However, it is not clear on any of the other circumstances surrounding those women and their babies with lower verbal intelligence. There are many other factors which could cause a child to be delayed verbally. This is the first I have read that a lack of DHA could be one of those factors.

This article brings up a great point, encouraging women to eat more fish and that it is less dangerous than previously thought. The information provided is true in that consuming an adequate amount of DHA is very important while pregnant. However, our text still only recommends two servings versus three servings listed in the article. I consider myself to be less conservative and agree with the article. I do not think the information in our text is as accurate, despite it having been published a year after this article. I am not sure if that is because doctors must still only be recommending two servings or if the author of our text is biased. Our text even states, “Fish and seafood are by far the richest food sources of EPA and DHA (Brown, 2011)”. If DHA is so important for the developing baby then why is our text still only recommending two servings per week? In this case, our text does not support the recommendation presented in this article.

I would recommend other pregnant women read this article so that they receive information on this subject from different perspectives. Only she can decide what is right for her and her baby. I already find myself wanting to share this information with the labor and delivery nurses I work with as a means to create healthy discussion about something that is really important. I would tell them that they should read the article and consider the fact that most fish do not have a high content of mercury and that adding that natural form of DHA to their diet would be very beneficial. I would also share the research given about how good DHA is for brain development, which I think supersedes any other discussion about it. For me, that is a done deal. I will be taking in more DHA either through fish or fish oil. I would add more information about the brain development and how DHA specifically affects a positive result, especially in pregnancy. This is the first I have heard, even after having a baby of my own, that DHA specifically targets brain and vision development which would have been nice to know ahead of time.

 

References:

MedicineNet, 2012. Definition of DHA. Retrieved on September 6, 2012 from:

http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=23903

Brown, J. E. (2011). Nutrition Through the Life Cycle (4th Ed). Belmont, CA:Wadsworth.

Gray, R. (May 30, 2010). Pregnant Women Should Be Allowed to Eat More Fish. The Telegraph. Retrieved on September 6, 2012 from:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/7782834/Pregnant-women-should-be-allowed-to-eat-more-fish.html

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