Seafood: Wild or Farmed?
Seafood is very important for the developing fetus. In Raising Baby Green, Dr. Greene tells of a 2007 study that suggested “women who regularly eat fish during pregnancy have smarter babies.” Joanne Hay, editor of Nourished Magazine and author of “Pregnancy Nutrition for Making Strong, Healthy Babies” writes, “prawns, crabs, and oysters are wonderful baby making foods. Eat a portion of these foods once a week.”
When studying the diets of traditional cultures, Price writes, “No places were found where the native plant foods were not supplemented by sea foods.” Of interest to the pregnant mom, Price adds that seafoods are valuable for “producing a human stock of high vitality.”
The topic of eating fish can raise a difficult question, however: Polluted sea waters or conventionally farmed waters? Today, both are polluted. A wild fish has been raised in an environment where industrial waste, feces, and mercury abound. Since all water-ways are linked, farmed fish are likely to have the same toxins in their water.
Industrial chemicals, farming chemicals and plastics that are dumped into the ocean produce xenoestrogens, estrogen-like compounds. Chek says that researchers have found that “Male fish are developing with female sex characteristics and they are not able to [re]produce.” The estrogen-like hormones disrupt animal hormonal systems, causing major epidemics among sea animals and now humans. “We have the greatest percentage of sterile teenagers today that we’ve ever had in history,” said Chek, commenting on one of the biggest industry’s today, in vitro fertilization.
Fish farming may not be any better. Fish farming is a new and unregulated industry, says Chek. This means that new untested drugs that are possibly worse than conventional farmed land animals can be used.
Adding insult to injury, people often eat fish specifically to obtain the right balance of essential fatty acids (omega-3’s), but because they aren’t eating their native diet, farmed fish don’t have the right fatty acids. As an example of omega-3 conversion from mom to baby, Simontacchi writes, “Because Japanese and Eskimo mothers typically eat more ocean fish, their breast milks are higher in the Omega-3 fatty acids than the milk from mothers in other cultures.”
Since seafood is so important for the developing fetus, the objective is to find the best seafood possible.
There are so many conflicting recommendations for how a pregnant mom should eat fish. It is difficult to find a definitive suggestion for the seafood dilemma. With today’s awareness and phobia of mercury in the fish supply, most expert seafood recommendations are based solely on mercury levels, with no concern for estrogens or other toxins. When our research began, the hope was to create a recommendation for several fish that the pregnant mom could “eat as often as desired when pregnant!” Unfortunately, it became clear that the perfect fish may no longer exist. Instead, you will find the best possible recommendations, considering the polluted state of all our connected waterways.
In order to provide the most useful and comprehensive recommendations, we have included a discussion of several references below. They have been reordered or alphabetized so you can more easily compare one reference to the next. Overlap has been removed where possible. In this manner, you will get a feel for the current state of our oceans, and ultimately be able to make the wisest decision on your own. At the very end, you will find the green fish, which symbolize a concentrated pregnancy recommendation. Anyone who is interested in just getting the green list, may skip to the end of this chapter at any time.
Where the fish comes from can play a big role in how much mercury a big fish has or how much PCB an oily fish has. “Wild-caught fish are harvested from their naturally habitat. They may have a more varied diet, less disease, and lower levels of contaminant than farmed fish—or not, depending on the species and location of the fish,” writes Dr. Greene. He commented on one study that showed higher concentrations of PCB’s, dioxin, and other cancer-causing agents found in farm-raised salmon, though his safe-lists do include several farmed fish. Chek, however, is adamant about choosing wild fish, “Avoid commercially farmed fish, unless you have no other option.”
Note that a quality fish oil supplement is warranted for the pregnant woman, regardless of her actual fish intake. [Look for a Later Blog-Superfoods: Cod Liver Oil]
Avoid These Seafoods
In general, the larger the fish, the higher it’s level of mercury. So, eating smaller fish initially seems the way to go. Unfortunately, other pollutants are now reducing another category of seafood: oily fish. The Foods Standards Agency, a British government website, writes, “Oily fish can contain low levels of pollutants that can build up in the body. The pollutants found in oily fish include dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).” Dioxins are chemical pollutant byproducts that can accumulate in human fat tissue. [You will learn more about dioxins and PCBs in a later blog-Household Toxins Can Impair Baby’s Development.] Unfortunately, some of these oily fish are also the smaller ones, which reduce a pregnant woman’s choices even further. The Standard Foods Agency recommends a maximum of two portions of oily fish each week for “Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding” and even for “Girls and women who might have a baby one day.” The following list of oily fish is to be restricted, according to the Food Standard Agency (EatWell.gov.uk):
- “Herring (Bloater)”
- “Jack-also known as Scad, Horse Mackerel and Trevally”
- “Kipper (herring)”
- “Orange Roughy” (highest mercury)
- “Tuna-fresh” (high mercury)
Note: The fish listed on these charts as (“high mercury” or “highest mercury”) are considered the worst mercury offenders by AmericanPregnancy.org, with data obtained from the Natural Resource Defense Council through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Specifically for pregnant women, Dr. Greene recommends avoiding the following fish. Dr. Greene recommends avoiding:
- “Bass, Large Mouth” (high mercury)
- “Cod, Rock”
- “Gulf Coast Oysters”
- “Grouper” (highest mercury)
- “Halibut” (high mercury)
- “Mackerel, King” (highest mercury)
- “Marlin” (highest mercury)
- “Orange Roughy” (highest mercury)
- “Sea Bass”
- “Shark” (highest mercury)
- “Swordfish” (highest mercury)
- “Tilefish” (highest mercury)
- “Tuna-canned” (high mercury)
Note: AmericanPregnancy.org says to “avoid eating” anything in the “highest mercury” category. Their official recommendation for pregnant moms is to “eat no more than three 6-oz servings per month” of anything in the “high mercury” category, which includes the following five seafoods. These additional “high mercury” fish should generally be avoided as well:
- “Croaker” (high mercury)
- “Tuna-fresh Bluefin or Ahi” (high mercury)
- “Seatrout” (high mercury)
- “Bluefish” (high mercury)
- “Lobster, American/Maine” (high mercury)
The official FDA recommendation is to “eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.” It is important to remember that neither AmericanPregnancy.org nor the FDA address other contaminants besides mercury. The following list is posted on AmericanPregnancy.org as “Lowest Mercury,” yet with a recommendation to eat no more than two 6-oz servings per week:
- “Anchovies” (oily)
- “Calamari squid”
- “Crab, king”
- “Herring” (oily)
- “Lobster, spiny/rock”
- “Perch, ocean”
- “Salmon” (oily)
- “Sardines” (oily)
- “Trout, freshwater”
An invaluable reference for the pregnant mom, Nourishing Traditions, throws a bright spot into the mercury limitations, saying “mercury contamination is a danger when one eats fish from shoreline waters near industrial areas or from contaminated fresh waters.” The book specifically recommends avoiding freshwater fish, especially these scavenger fish:
- “Cat fish”
…and to avoid over-consumption of shell fish from contaminated shoreline waters. Typical shell fish include:
Choose These Seafoods
By teaching readers how to avoid polluted waters, the Nourishing Traditions allows several potentially off-limits fish back onto the pregnant menu. Overall, the book recommends:
- Eating fish from the “relatively clean waters” of the North Atlantic (including salmon, tuna, sole, and flounder)
In fact, Nourishing Traditions goes as far as to say that fish in these waters “contain substances that bind with mercury to take it out of the body.” The book agrees that farm-raised fish are best avoided and reminds readers that farm-raised salmon are even given a die to make the flesh pink (a sign that these farmed fish are both highly toxic and not being fed the right nutrients.)
Overall, Dr. Greene recommends a wide list for the pregnant mom, which includes both wild and farm-raised fish. It is a broad list of the least contaminated sea foods. We have grouped Greene’s suggestions into wild, farmed, and unspecified sections. (The middle section does not specify wild versus farm-raised.) In many cases, based on other experts’ advice, it seems prudent to seek fish that have been wild-caught in clean waters. Also remember that those listed as (oily) may have higher levels of PCB’s and Dioxins and those listed as (shell fish) should not be over-consumed, according to other experts. Wherever possible, additional information concerning contamination levels has been added. Here are the pregnancy seafood suggestions, as listed in Raising Baby Green.
- “Wild Salmon, Alaskan or Pacific” (oily)
- “Wild Salmon-canned, Pink or Sockeye” (oily)
- “Anchovies” (oily)
- “Crab-Blue” (very low in contaminants) (lower in mercury) (shell fish)
- “Crab-Stone, Snow, Dungeness” (lower in mercury) (shell fish)
- “Flounder” (very low in contaminants) (avoid shoreline, seek North Atlantic)
- “Haddock” (very low in contaminants)
- “Herring, Atlantic” (oily)
- “Mackerel, Atlantic” (not king mackerel)
- “Mahi Mahi” (lower mercury)
- “Sardines” (oily)
- “Scallops, Bay” (shell fish)
- “Shrimp-Northern Shrimp, Oregon Shrimp, Spot Prawns” (shell fish)
- “Farmed Trout” (both healthy and ecologically sound, unlike farmed shrimp)
- “Farmed Abalone”
- “Farmed Catfish”
- “Farmed (not wild) Caviar”
- “Farmed Clams”
- “Farmed Oysters”
- “Farmed Mussels”
- “Farmed Scallops”
- “Farmed Striped Bass”
- “Farmed Sturgeon”
If Dr. Greene’s list is broad, The Weston A. Price “Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers” is very specific. It recommends “Fresh seafood, 2-4 times per week, particularly:”
- Wild salmon (oily—possible PCB’s & dioxins)
- Shellfish (do not over-consume)
- Fish Eggs
- Oily fish daily (oily—possible PCB’s & dioxins)
The most noticeable thing on this list is the emphasis on oily fish, the same ones that are potentially higher in PCB’s and dioxins. For an explanation, we went to Sally Fallon, who is co-author of Nourishing Traditions and president of The Weston A. Price Foundation, both of which indicate that oily fish are considered to be some of the best in baby-making nutrition, including the all important fat-soluble vitamins. When asked to comment on the Standard Food Agency’s restriction of oily fish, like salmon, due to PCB’s and dioxins, Fallon responded, “I do recommend seafood of every type for pregnant women, our recommendation is about two times per week. But bear in mind we also recommend lacto-fermented foods for good gut flora and cod liver oil for vitamin A—which protects against dioxins.” [Please look for later blogs-Superfoods: Cod Liver Oil and -Superfoods: Lacto-Fermented Vegetables.] For a more detailed explanation how to naturally protect from dioxins, Fallon recommended
The Green Fish
So, there is more than a fair debate as to what constitutes a safe fish for pregnancy. Now we will do our best to combine all the data above, and identify several green sea foods.
Green Fish must fit the following criteria:
- Wild (not subject to direct chemical feed)
- Clean waters (Alaskan or North Atlantic)
- Considered lowest in mercury (usually smaller)
With a discussion about these criteria:
- Non Oily (considered lowest in contaminants like PCB’s and Dioxins)
- Oily (considered highest in macro and trace minerals, fat-soluble vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids)
- Shell fish (to avoid over-consumption)
Putting it all together, we have chosen the super six green fish: one uncontaminated super-star: Fish Eggs; one oily fish: Salmon; two shellfish: Shrimp and Scallops; and two white fish: Haddock and Flounder.
Fish Eggs—Fish eggs seem to reside in a category above the rest. First, they are smack in the middle of the Weston Price “Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers,” as Dr. Price found many traditional cultures that prized fish eggs. Second, fish eggs are not placed on any mercury lists, and it is reasonable to assume that fish eggs would be rather low in mercury (since the fish eggs have not yet had the time to start accumulating mercury in their own food supply.) Third, like poultry eggs, it is reasonable to assume that fish eggs are a highly condensed source of nutrition, including macro and trace minerals, fat-soluble vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. [Look for Later Blog-Superfoods: Eggs.] As intake of fish eggs seem not to be officially restricted anywhere, it may be possible to eat them daily, as is recommended for oily fish by “The Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers.” No other seafood we’ve found fits this category.
Salmon—The major benefit to modern moms is how readily available good-quality salmon is. Wild Alaskan Salmon and Northern Atlantic Salmon can be found in many grocers. The potential drawback to salmon is that, as an oily fish, it may be susceptible to contaminants like PCB’s and dioxins. This is why obtaining salmon from clean northern waters is so important. Otherwise, salmon is recommended by both the Weston A. Price Foundation and Raising Baby Green; and it is considered lowest in mercury by the FDA (no more than two 6-oz servings per week). As oily fish are recommended daily by the “Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Moms,” if clean water salmon can be found, the pregnant mom may feel safe eating additional portions throughout the week.
Shrimp—Shrimp are shellfish, the most sought-after kind pregnancy food in the traditional cultures documented by Dr. Price. Shell fish are specifically listed on the “Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers,” though Nourishing Traditions recommends avoiding over-consumption of shell fish that may have been living in contaminated shoreline waters. Shrimp should be sought from wild waters of Alaska or the Northern Atlantic. Raising Baby Green specifically recommends Northern Shrimp, Oregon Shrimp, and Spot Prawns.
Scallops—Scallops are also shellfish, again the most sought-after kind pregnancy food in the traditional cultures documented by Dr. Price, and specifically listed on the “Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers.” Also similar to shrimp, however, Nourishing Traditions recommends avoiding over-consumption of shellfish that may have been living in contaminated shoreline waters. Raising Baby Green places Bay Scallops on their suggested pregnancy list. Scallops should be sought from wild waters of Alaska or the Northern Atlantic.
Haddock—Haddock is listed on Greene’s pregnancy safe list and is on the FDA’s “lowest mercury” list (no more than two 6-oz servings per week). As a non-oily fish, it can be considered lowest in other contaminants, but unfortunately not as powerful a stock-house for many sea nutrients. It is not specifically listed on the “Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers.” Haddock is one of the best whitefish that a pregnant mom can eat.
Flounder—Flounder is similar to Haddock, as long as it can be found wild-caught and not feeding along the shoreline. Flounder does not specifically make the “Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers,” but is on Dr. Greene’s pregnancy list and is considered lowest in mercury (no more than two 6-oz servings per week). Flounder is also one of the best whitefish that a pregnant mom can eat.
Love and Peace,
Fit For Birth