You're Probably Not Getting Enough Omega-3

If you're not eating fish with omega-3 during pregnancy because you're afraid of the mercury content, a new study says you may be doing your baby more harm than good.

You're Probably Not Getting Enough Omega-3 wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

When was the last time you ate a piece of fatty fish, like salmon? If it's been a while, you're in good company among pregnant women. A recent research study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism examined whether pregnant and nursing women were consuming the recommended amount of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) in their diet and found that about three-quarters of the women were falling short.

The Canadian research team followed 600 women in Edmonton and Calgary and found that, despite being educated and having a good income, only 27% of the women during pregnancy and 25% at three months postpartum met the current European Union (EU) recommendation of consuming a minimum of 200mg DHA per day. The American Dietetic Association along with Dietitians of Canada recommends that all healthy adults—including pregnant and lactating women—consume at least 500 mg a day of omega-3 LCPUFA, which includes DHA and EPA fatty acids.

Omega-3s are critical during pregnancy for helping the infant's brain and eyes develop, instrumental in placental development, and may reduce premature delivery. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend women who are pregnant eat 8 to 12 ounces of fish and seafood a week to help get an adequate amount of EPA and DHA for their babies. This Canadian study found that women who took a supplement containing DHA were 10.6 and 11.1 times more likely to meet the current EU consensus recommendation for pregnancy and postpartum, respectively.

Many pregnant women may shy away from eating fish when they're concerned about high levels of mercury (found in King mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish) because it can cause brain damage to a growing fetus. But research has shown there are plenty of omega-3 rich fish (like this kind of tuna) that are safe and important to eat throughout your pregnancy and while you're breastfeeding. If you don't think you'll be able to take in enough fish during your pregnancy and while breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about taking omega-3 supplements to ensure you're getting enough of these critical fatty acids.

Here are some safe sources of omega-3 fats recommended for pregnant women from the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (including DHA and EPA levels for 3.5 ounces of fish):

  • Anchovies (2,000 mg)
  • Striped bass (950 mg)
  • Freshwater (700 mg)
  • Atlantic halibut (400 mg)
  • Herring (2,000 mg)
  • Mussels (blue) (800 mg)
  • Oysters (Pacific) (1,400 mg)
  • Salmon (800-1,700 mg)
  • Trout (900-1,100 mg)
  • Bluefin tuna (1,500 mg)
  • Canned tuna (1,000 mg)
  • Canned tuna, light (270 mg)
  • Albacore tuna (140 mg)
  • Yellowfin (300 mg)
  • Whitefish (1,600 mg)

Vegetarian women can get omega-3s from DHA-fortified foods or eggs from hens fed DHA-rich microalgae. They might also want to consider taking an microalgae-derived DHA supplement.