Seafood contains nutrients that are essential to the development of foetuses and small children. Pregnant women should therefore eat more fish than they do today.

This is the conclusion of an article by several NIFES scientists which was published in Norsk tidsskrift for ernæring earlier this year.

‘Pregnant women and children should eat more fish, and especially fatty fish,’ says Jannike Øyen, scientist at NIFES.

She is one of the authors of the article, which summaries current knowledge about seafood consumption by children and pregnant women in Norway.

Eat too little fish

The results of a study conducted by NIFES among approximately 100 pregnant women in Fjell municipality. The average weekly intake of seafood by these women was 225 grams. This is also consistent with the results of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, in which more than 90,000 pregnant women participated, showed that they ate an average of approximately 250 grams of seafood per week, of which only 85 grams was fatty fish. This is less than half the current recommended amount.

The national dietary guidelines from the Norwegian Directorate of Health state that the intake of fish for dinner should be two to three times per week, and that it also could be used as a sandwich topping. This corresponds to a total of 300–450 grams of pure fish per week. At least 200 grams should be fatty fish such as salmon, trout, herring or mackerel.

In addition to children and young people, pregnant women and young women between the ages of 18 and 30 are among the groups that eat the least fish in Norway.

Important for the brain

It is extra important for these groups to eat fish, the article says. The requirement for the nutrients that fish is rich in is greatest during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence.

Fish and other seafood have a high content of marine omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and the minerals selenium and iodine compared with other types of food. These nutrients are essential to normal foetus development, and especially for the development of the child’s brain and central nervous system.

‘It is therefore important that children consume these nutrients already in the womb, and not only after they are born,’ says Øyen.

No limitations for pregnant women

Both the European Food and Safety Authority and the Food and Drug Administration in the USA have concluded that pregnant women have more to gain than to lose from eating fish. The positive health effects of eating fish outweigh the risk associated with undesirable substances. This conclusion is consistent with similar studies from Sweden, Denmark and the UK. However, pregnant women in Norway are warned against eating some specific large fresh water fish and some exotic fish species.

The most recent risk-benefit assessment of fish in the Norwegian diet was published at the end of 2014. The report, published by the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety, concludes that pregnant women who eat little fish may miss out on the advantages from the fish. According to the report, there is no longer any reason to warn pregnant women and women of fertile age, against eating more than two meals of fatty fish per week, which the Norwegian Directorate of Health did in the past.

‘Many of the scientific articles we write are in English, but this is in fact an article in Norwegian,’ says Øyen.

Read the entire article in Norsk tidsskrift for ernæring her.

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