By now most people know that trans-fats are bad and saturated fats should be kept to a minimum but that’s only part of the conversation regarding fats and health. Did you know that there are good fats (in the form of oils) that you need in order to survive? The fatty foods that are most healthy for you contain omega 3s, essential fatty acids necessary for optimal health. The most beneficial of these fatty acids are EPA and DHA which play an important role in preventing heart disease, cancer, and depression and may help treat other disorders such as arthritis and diabetes. To assist the public in getting enough of these vital nutrients, some foods are now fortified with omega 3s, including certain brands of eggs, pasta, and yogurt.
When it comes to babies, these same nutrients promote brain and eye growth and have been found to help prevent the onset of asthma, allergies, low birth weight and preterm labor. Hence, many providers prescribe prenatal vitamin supplements that contain DHA and recommend that women take them during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
One of the best natural sources of omega 3 fatty acids is fish. The FDA advises that pregnant and breastfeeding women (and young children) consume 2 – 3 weekly servings of low-mercury fish (such as salmon, light canned tuna, tilapia, cod, shrimp, catfish, pollock). In addition to providing omega 3, fish contain high quality protein and a significant amount of vitamins and minerals yet are low in saturated fat. Fish to avoid, due to high mercury content, include shark, king mackerel, tilefish and swordfish. White albacore tuna should be limited to 6 ounces per week. No amount of raw or undercooked fish is OK during pregnancy.
Despite all of its benefits, fish is generally under-consumed by many pregnancy women. Reasons for avoiding fish may include cost, availability, fear of mercury, dislike of the taste or texture of fish, or a lack of knowledge on how to prepare seafood. It is important for women to feel confident in following the FDA guidelines. Safe fish is highly recommended and the benefits are numerous. Find local deals on fish to cut costs – some markets and farms host fish trucks on a weekly basis, allowing you to purchase fresh fish from a convenient location. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller for ideas on how to prepare the fish. If you or your family are not huge fans of seafood, try fish tacos or salmon burgers - when mixed with lots of ingredients, the fish is barely perceptible. With a quick google search you can find several recipes and choose the most appealing one for your taste. If cooking isn’t your pleasure then ask friends or investigate online to find the best seafood restaurants in town.
For more information on fish and pregnancy, check out the latest draft of guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know. Remember, food can be your best pharmacy and fish provides a list of health benefits that is unrivaled by most other food types.