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Report says to eat fish; benefits beat the risks



Published: Wed, October 18, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Children and pregnant women should skip certain kinds of fish.

WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON -- The benefits of eating a couple of servings of most fish or seafood weekly outweigh potential health risks of mercury or other contamination for adults and children, according to a new report commissioned by the federal government issued Tuesday and could help settle a long-standing nutritional debate.

Not only do the healthy, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood help protect against heart disease, the report says, but women who consume fish or seafood during pregnancy or while nursing also can promote healthy vision and brain development in their infants.

These healthy fats also appear to decrease the risk of delivering a pre-term, low-birth weight baby, the report says.

What to skip

Even so, because of methyl mercury concerns, the report sticks with the current federal guidelines in advising women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, as well as children 12 and younger, to skip eating swordfish, shark, tilefish and King mackerel, all of which contain relatively high levels of mercury.

Although these two groups can have up to 12 ounces of fish per week, the report says they should limit white (albacore) tuna to no more than six ounces per week.

The new findings are expected to help put to rest a hotly debated nutritional question that often leaves consumers confused.

Both the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association recommend that consumers eat about two meals of fish or seafood per week, preferably not deep fat fried, which can add calories and unhealthy trans fatty acids.

But concerns about contamination from methyl mercury, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency to issue seafood advisories aimed largely at women of childbearing ages and at children 12 and younger.

"Consumers need better guidance on making seafood choices," said Malden Nesheim, chair of the committee that wrote the report, which was conducted by the Institute of Medicine for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association and the FDA.

Many benefits

The new report concludes that by eating about two meals of fish and shellfish per week, most people can gain nutritional benefits, reduce their risk of heart disease and minimize any potential risk from contaminants.

Not only is fish a good source of protein, the report notes, but fatty fish such as salmon provides some of the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids found in food. Large federally funded nutritional surveys suggest that most people fall short on these healthy fats.




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