The science of sustainable seafood, explained

Pregnant mothers and children should eat seafood

Two recent studies, Hibbeln et al. 2019 & Spiller et al. 2019, published together in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids (PLEFA), examined the health benefits of consuming seafood during pregnancy. Researchers found that seafood consumption during pregnancy was strongly linked to increased IQ in children.

Thirteen leading dietary scientists spent the last two decades conducting the most thorough review on the subject in history. The research evaluated studies on 102,944 mother-child pairs and 25,301 children.

The findings strongly supported what many consumers already know—seafood is good for you. But the specific measurements to this notion were striking, so much so that one of the authors warned SeafoodNews.com, “There is a lost opportunity for IQ when mothers are not eating enough seafood.”

The study found children gain an average of 7.7 IQ points when mothers ate seafood during pregnancy, compared to mothers that did not eat seafood. Another finding showed that children born from mothers who did not eat seafood during pregnancy were three times more likely to be hyperactive.

All amounts of seafood consumed during pregnancy were tested, from only 4oz a week to over 100oz a week, and, “no adverse effects of seafood consumption were found for neurocognition in any of the 44 publications, indicating that there may be no upper limit to seafood’s benefits for brain development.”

Mercury risk is overstated

One of the most important findings from the paper was that negative cognitive effects from mercury were not found. A significant number of women measured mercury levels above the U.S. EPA’s reference dose, but no cognitive issues were found—even amongst the highest consuming women and children. Dr. J. Thomas Brenna, one of the study’s authors says, “the risk is not eating enough seafood—the benefits are so substantial for the development of baby brains, eyes and overall nervous system.”

FDA guidelines for pregnant women and young children eating seafood
FDA guidelines for pregnant women

Seafood contains a unique package of protein, vitamins B-6, B-12 and D, and omega-3 fatty acids. The research is clear: the benefits of eating seafood far outweigh the extremely unlikely hazards. Hopefully more pregnant mothers will heed this advice and eat more seafood during pregnancy.

Picture of Jack Cheney

Jack Cheney

Jack has sourced, sold, cooked, and sustainably certified seafood over the past 10 years. In addition to his contributions to Sustainable Fisheries UW, he is working to increase traceability into supply chains and educate consumers, chefs and retailers on the value of environmentally sustainable seafood. He earned a Master's in Marine Affairs from the University of Washington in 2015.

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