April 7, 2022
Is it safe to eat fish during pregnancy?
Doctors often warn pregnant people to reduce or even eliminate seafood and fish from their diets. Fish, however, is thought to be a great source of nutrients, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, that are crucial for the developmental stages of the fetus. But why is the consumption of fish unsafe for pregnant people and is there a healthier alternative on the market?
It doesn’t come as a surprise that the human body increases nutritional needs during pregnancy. Not only do pregnant people need to feed their own body, but also the one of the fetus that is being developed in the womb. To support this complicated procedure successfully, the human body needs a variety of micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, and macronutrients, such as proteins and fats. Pregnant people may have to adjust their daily intake of calcium to 1200 mg, folate to 800 mcg, and iron to 27 mg. Their protein intake should also increase from 46 grams to 70-100 grams a day.
For many decades, pregnant people were encouraged to eat fish on a weekly basis. Fish is rich in lean proteins and Omega-3 fatty acids, making it the ultimate healthy food. For pregnant people, it was considered the best way to meet their nutritional goals. However, doctors now warn that regular seafood consumption is no longer safe for pregnancy. The reason? The presence of harmful heavy metals, especially mercury.
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and takes on different forms, such as elemental, inorganic, and organic. Methylmercury is an organic form of mercury that humans are exposed to whenever they eat fish and shellfish. It is considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern. Although mercury occurs naturally, human activity, such as coal-burning and mining, release it into the environment. There, bacteria can transform mercury into methylmercury, its most toxic form. The latter bioaccumulates in fish and shellfish and, sometimes, biomagnifies. That means that big, predatory fish contain higher levels of this compound than smaller fish.
Humans usually end up being exposed to methylmercury by consuming seafood, especially larger fish such as tuna. Unfortunately, cooking the fish or any processing of some kind does not remove this compound. Therefore, the only way to protect ourselves from mercury poisoning is to reduce or eliminate our seafood consumption. Mercury poisoning refers to a toxicity from mercury consumption. Ingesting small amounts of mercury in daily products may not affect our health. However, being exposed to it in large amounts can lead to health problems or even death. Methylmercury has toxic effects on our nervous, digestive, and immune system. The same goes for lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes.
Tolerable weekly intakes of methylmercury are about 1.3 μg/kg of body weight. The tolerable amount for inorganic mercury is about 4 μg/kg of body weight. That means that an adult human who weighs 70 kg can consume 91 μg of methylmercury per week, without having any negative side effect. That means that eating large fish, such as tuna, multiple times per week, can easily lead to toxicity.
Symptoms of mercury poisoning include:
However, since this compound accumulates overtime, a person may experience signs of acute toxicity. These include:
Most importantly, mercury can also disrupt fetal and early childhood development. That is why doctors advice people to avoid or at least reduce the consumption of fish during pregnancy. Methylmercury can damage the developing brains of human fetuses. These can lead to neurological issues and, in some cases, it may cause cerebral palsy or even Minimata disease at any age. The latter is a neurological disease caused by severe mercury poisoning.
Minimata can lead to paralysis, coma, and death within the span of a few weeks. The disease got its name from Minamata Bay in Japan, where, in the 20th Century, thousands of people suffered irreparable neurological damage or died, after slowly poisoning themselves with contaminated seafood and fish. The disease was discovered in 1956 and it has since been linked to the waste produced by a nearby chemical factory. It is important to note that, although fetuses are more likey to suffer neurological damage when exposed to methylmercury, everyone, no matter their age, is at risk.
A much safer alternative to conventional fish is vegan fish during pregnancy. Alternative fish products taste and look like their conventional counterparts but they are made from plants. Most of the times, they also contain all of their nutrients, such as proteins and Omega-3 fatty acids, while they are free of mercury and other toxic heavy metals. Therefore, pregnant women can consume them without fearing exposing their babies to dangerous compounds that can affect them throughout their lives.
Revo Foods’ 100% plant-based fish products, such as Revo Salmon, offer the best of both worlds: the taste, texture, and proteins of fish and the innocence, vitamins, and sustainability of plants. Our products are developed and produced in Austria but they are already available in multiple online and physical stores and restaurants in Europe.
*photo by Nike Farag // Revo Foods | background imageby Artem Mizyuk: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-angelfish-1739809/