For years women have been advised to limit how much tuna they consume due to its mercury content, but that it is completely acceptable to eat in moderation. New research released by Consumer Reports is now challenging this recommendation. In fact, Consumer Reports is recommending not only that pregnant women decrease the small amount of tuna they previously thought was safe to eat, but that they eliminate it from their diets entirely.
Consumer Reports sites data that the levels of mercury in canned tuna can be as much as twice as much as reported. The organization says that some cans of tuna may contain less mercury, but the consumer has no way of knowing exactly how much mercury is in any particular can of tuna. Because of this, Consumer Reports says that they believe the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) underestimates the risk to pregnant women and their fetuses by allowing limited servings of tuna each week.
For their part, the FDA is sticking with its current recommendation that pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces of fish per week, including canned tuna. The advantages of the essential fatty acids contained in tuna are part of the reason for the recommendation. Seafood related groups such as The National Fisheries Institute argue that the Consumer Reports ignores data on the benefit of fish consumption.
Two facts remain undisputed: essential fatty acids are critical in brain development, and mercury does cross the blood placenta barrier and could cause harm to the fetus quickly. How to resolve the role of tuna consumption in regard to these two facts remains a question that only additional studies can answer. For now, pregnant women should discuss the issue with their OBGYNs to come up with a safe and healthy option for themselves and their babies.