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Study Says Pregnant Women Help Babies' Development by Eating Seafood


A group of nutritionists and doctors recommend that pregnant and breast feeding women eat at least three servings of fish and other seafood per week. The recommendations are the opposite of what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises because some ocean fish contain toxic levels of mercury. This newest study once again raises the issue of whether the benefits of seafood to developing brains outweigh concern over mercury poisoning. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.

Fish has long been known as "brain food." But now there is a big debate in the United States about how much is good for you.

Seafood is a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, acids that experts say are essential for optimal fetal brain development.

But ocean fish, which contain the greatest amount of omega-3 acids, can be contaminated by mercury.Three years ago [March, 2004], the U.S. government warned pregnant and nursing women to cut back on the amount of seafood they eat.

Since then, more than half the pregnant and nursing women in the U.S. have followed the government's advice. Now, a group of top American scientists is advising these women to ignore the federal recommendations and to eat at least three servings of fish and seafood per week -- 340 grams -- to give their babies their best chance for brain development.

The National Fisheries Institute paid the group to do the research, but the researchers say they cannot ignore the results.

Dr. James McGregor, an obstetrician, was one of the researchers. He says, "I think the preponderance of the evidence now suggests that if you don't get ocean fish during pregnancy, this is like a deficiency."

His colleague, Dr. Roger Newman, agrees, "We've learned that these are essential, this is an essential nutrient to fetal neurological development as well as infant neurological development."

And Dr. Ashley Roman says, "I am convinced that the benefits of eating fish in pregnancy outweigh any potential risks. In fact, I chose to eat two to three servings of fish a week during my pregnancy."

Earlier this year, another team of medical researchers analyzed extensive child development data. They concluded that children whose mothers ate the portions recommended by the U.S. government scored lower on intelligence tests, had poorer academic performance and had more behavioral and social problems than children whose mothers ate 340 grams or more of seafood while they were pregnant and nursing.

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