Fish is one of the few foods of animal origin that constitute a fundamental pillar in the Mediterranean diet. However, the recent recommendations of the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN) are causing a considerable stir, since they have warned of the presence of high amounts of mercury in fish and its consumption has been prohibited in certain species for pregnant women and children.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the consumption of 'land' foods, especially those in season, mainly of plant origin, such as fruits and vegetables, as well as legumes, accompanied by a not too frequent consumption of foods of animal origin. However, fish is traditionally consumed at least 3 times a week, even more, in coastal areas, due to the proximity to the port.
AESAN has issued new guidelines modifying the ages and recommended amounts of consumption of certain fish based on the amount of mercury they contain and new information about its effect on health, especially the fetus and young children.
In these new guidelines, a vulnerable population is considered to be pregnant women, inincluding women planning pregnancy, lactating women and children between 0 and 10 years of age. During these stages, the consumption of fish with a high mercury content should be avoided completely, while those species whose content is estimated as medium or low should be consumed 3 or 4 times a week.
From the age of 10 to 14, although they are no longer considered a vulnerable population, children should not consume fish high in mercury in their diet frequently, and servings should be limited to no more than 120g per month. The rest of the fish species, with medium or low mercury content, can be consumed freely, about 3 or 4 times a week.
With regard to the amount of mercury, this is usually directly related to the size of the fish. Mercury is present in waters of seas and rivers, both naturally, coming from the earth's crust, and due to pollution. As it accumulates in the muscle of the fish, the larger the piece, the more mercury, and it is recommended, within the same fish, to choose smaller pieces instead of larger ones.
Mercury is harmful to the developing brain, which is why children, as they grow, are one of the high-risk groups, and to the developing nervous system of the fetus, which is why pregnant women should avoid consuming fish with high content, since mercury can cross the placental barrier, and even reach breast milk.
The species that should be avoided due to their high mercury content are swordfish or emperor, bluefin tuna, pike and the vast majority of shark species, including dogfish, dogfish or blue shark, which are very popular in Andalusia. The widely consumed species that are safer to eat include:
- Blue fish: anchovy / anchovy, sardine, mackerel, salmon, herring and trout.
- White fish: sea bream, sea bass, fresh cod, sole and sole, carp, horse mackerel, hake or whiting and butt.
- Seafood: crab, squid, squid, cuttlefish, clams, razor clams, cockles, crayfish, coquinas, lobsters, prawns, prawns, mussels, and octopus.
In addition to their mercury content, we can classify fish into two large groups, white fish and blue fish. Their main difference lies in the amount of fat they contain in their meat, that is, in the muscle of the fish.
White fish have amounts of fat not exceeding 3%, while blue fish, depending on the time of year and the breeding stage in which they are found, can exceed 15%.
Fish fat is one of the healthiest that we can find, with an inestimable content of essential fatty acids for health -which have to be provided through the diet-, the widely known omega 3s.
The consumption of fish, both white and blue, is not only safe, since the European Union ensures, through current legislation, that the maximum limits for mercury are not exceeded, but that it is absolutely necessary for proper nutrition, both for children as pregnant women, for its contribution in essential nutrients.
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