Two little fish are shown next to spices and a lemon.
A little fish is OK during pregnancy—but don’t overdo it. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

At some point, you’ve probably heard someone say you should mostly avoid fish because it contains mercury and other chemicals.

And then you’ve certainly heard other people tell you that fish is a healthy, low-fat protein. And a brain food. And it has omega-3 fatty acids.

All of these are very important to mom and baby.

I’ve written previously about the importance of protein, but you may be wondering why omega-3 fatty acid is so important.

For starters, it boosts brain development in children and it’s very important for growth. (When I was in nursing school, we would eat tuna fish before big exams because there was this idea that it was brain food.) It’s also thought to lower inflammation and improve arthritic symptoms.

Omega-3 also helps prevent heart disease in adults. The American Heart Association suggests it may lower triglycerides and blood pressure and help reduce blood clotting—all important aspects for a pregnant mama to consider.

So how do you know which fish is best and how much you should eat?

The state of Michigan has a great information campaign, called Eat safe fish. It’s an easy-to-understand program to help you understand good fish consumption guidelines.

Mercury, PCBs and dioxins are the more common chemicals found in Michigan’s fish, which is why consumers should try to limit fish consumption.

One of my favorite parts of the Eat safe fish campaign is a brochure that explains a concept called Eat 8.

Essentially, each type of fish is worth a certain amount of points, and overall you should limit yourself to 8 points of fish each month.

What’s easy to remember is it doesn’t matter if you’re a child, an adult, a man, a woman, pregnant, or elderly. It’s for all people: Eat 8.

An example of this would be my parents, who are in their 70s. They occasionally eat orange roughy, a fish that’s listed as 8 points per serving. This means it’s OK for them to eat it, but it should be the only fish they consume that entire month.

Some pregnant women have heard they can’t eat shrimp while pregnant, but shrimp is actually listed as 1 point per serving in the Eat 8 brochure. So you can have shrimp as long as you don’t go over 8 points per month.

Tuna is also one type of fish that women think they can’t have if they’re pregnant.

But it’s OK to eat. If it’s light tuna in water, it’s 2 points per serving; canned white tuna is 4 points per serving.

Another handy concept from Eat safe fish involves the 3C’s: Choose, Clean and Cook.

  • Choose the right type of fish.
  • Clean carefully and trim as much fat as possible.
  • Cook properly.

As far as cooking goes, this is where I learned what I was doing wrong. I was cooking fish on the bottom of a broiler pan in marinade and salt and pepper. I wasn’t cooking it deep-fried, or even using a batter, so I thought it was a healthy approach.

But I was actually cooking it in the bad stuff. I learned to cook it on top of the broiler pan, to let the fat fall through to the bottom.

The campaign also offers this acronym as a reminder: SAFE.

  • Smaller fish are better, because they have less pollutants and chemicals in them.
  • Avoid large predator fish and bottom-feeders, because they have more chemicals.
  • Fat should be removed.
  • Eat fish that have been broiled or grilled on a rack.

Now that you know all this fishy information … go out and Eat 8!