NEWS: FDA Issues Updated Advice about Eating Fish

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued updated advice about eating fish that incorporates the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), 2020-2025. Done in coordination with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this update revises the advice that was last issued in 2019. In the advice, they use “fish” to refer to both fish and shellfish.

Nutrients in fish can support a child’s brain and immune system development. They recommend eating fish as part of a healthy diet, and they encourage children and people who are or might become pregnant or breastfeeding to eat fish that are lower in mercury. Their advice can help them choose which fish to eat and how much to eat based on mercury.

They continue to recommend that children and people who are or might become pregnant or are breastfeeding eat a variety of fish from their “Best Choices” category, as they are lower in mercury. With so many choices of fish, their advice allows people to make choices that work for them. Canned, frozen, and fresh fish all count and provide options that are affordable and convenient.

What’s New

For parents, caregivers, and people who are or might become pregnant or are breastfeeding, their advice can help them choose which fish to eat or serve their children and how much to eat based on mercury. The updated advice includes new information explaining that:

  • Children 1 year of age can eat about 1 ounce of fish 2 times a week (from the “Best Choices” list).
  • Fish intake during pregnancy is recommended because moderate scientific evidence shows it can help your baby’s cognitive development.
  • Fish provide key nutrients that children need for their brain, immune system, and spinal cord development. The nutrients omega-3 and omega-6 fats, iron, iodine, and choline support brain development. Choline also supports the development of the baby’s spinal cord. Iron and zinc support children’s immune systems.
  • Strong evidence shows that eating fish as part of a healthy diet may help your heart health. Moderate scientific evidence shows that healthy diets that include fish are associated with lowering the risk of becoming overweight or obese and the risk of hip fractures, colon cancer, and rectal cancer.

What Stayed the Same

Their overall advice about eating fish has not changed. The look has changed because they made it easier to navigate. They did not add or delete any types of fish listed on their chart. They did not change how they categorize the different types of fish on the chart, although they noted a subset of the “Best Choices” fish listed in the DGA that are even lower in mercury. This subset can help government food programs and others who feed children to provide the amounts of fish recommended in the DGA while also following their advice to limit mercury.

They also did not change the recommended servings or serving sizes. They recommend that people who are pregnant or breastfeeding eat fish 2 to 3 times a week (for a total of 8 to 12 ounces) and clarify that children should eat fish 2 times per week (for a total of 2 to 8 ounces, depending on age) from the “Best Choices” category in the chart.

What’s Coming Up

As part of the FDA’s Closer to Zero action plan, their plan is to evaluate the current research on mercury in food—including fish—consumed by babies and young children, starting in 2022. As they evaluate these food sources, they will look more holistically at the role of fish in the diet, considering both components that are detrimental (such as mercury) and beneficial (such as nutrients) and evaluating their respective and interacting roles in child development. Their aim is to have the most up-to-date understanding of the science on fish consumption in a whole diet context, which will help them determine if and how to update their fish advice in the future.

Additional Information