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February 9, 2010

Tuna Trouble? Wild Planet to the Rescue

Filed under: Nutrition During Pregnancy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Elizabeth Ward @ 1:33 pm

When I was pregnant with my first child, canned tuna was my go-to food.  I craved tuna salad sandwiches, and I ate my share during those nine months.  Warnings about contaminants such as methylmercury (also known as mercury) in tuna and other fish had been around for decades before I starting having children, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had yet to come out with the strong suggestions we have today about fish to avoid during the childbearing years.  Mercury damages the central nervous system, and can have devastating effects on a developing baby’s and child’s brain and nerves.  Mercury hangs around the body for years, so it may be present when you become pregnant.

Recently, researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found that 55% of the samples of canned tuna from the top three brands in the US contain mercury levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency allows as safe; 5% of those samples had levels higher than the safety level set by the FDA for commercially-sold fish. White (albacore) tuna from all three brands harbored the highest mercury concentrations.  Canned light tuna has much less mercury than canned white tuna, but it is also much lower in omega-3 fats, particularly the docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that your child needs for brain development and peak vision.  Studies show that pregnant and nursing moms with higher intakes of DHA have children with better vision and better cognitive function.

Oddly enough, canned tuna, a favorite of Americans, is not one of the four fish to completely steer clear of when you’re in the baby-making stage of life. (The fish to avoid are swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and shark.) Tuna sold in cans is most often from older species with higher methylymercury levels.  However, the FDA does recommend eating six ounces or less of canned white (albacore) tuna a week if you’re capable of becoming pregnant, an amount that should be counted in the 12-ounce-a-week suggested limit of seafood.

albacorenosalt1Tuna lovers, don’t despair!  It is possible for you and your children to safely enjoy canned tuna, without guilt or worry.  Wild Planet sells wild albacore tuna with more DHA, and far less mercury than the major brands and store brands. How is that possible? I was wondering that myself when I picked up a can at the store the other day.  I visited their excellent web site and found the answers I was looking for.  Wild Planet wild albacore tuna is from smaller fish who’ve had less time to accumulate mercury in their bodies.  Also, the tuna is cooked in the can and the omega-3s, including DHA, stay in the can; they are not drained off and replaced by vegetable oil or water.

Wild Planet tuna costs about twice as much, but it’s worth every penny because the fish is safer to eat, you get more DHA for you and your child, and the fish are sustainably caught.  If you ate one can of Wild Planet wild albacore tuna every week, you’d consume an average of 331 milligrams of DHA daily.  Health experts recommend at least 200 milligrams of DHA a day when you’re pregnant and nursing.

There’s no reason to stop eating tuna if you’re expecting, nursing, or otherwise in the baby-making years.  Even with all the caveats, it’s likely that the benefits of consuming low-risk seafood, such as Wild Planet wild albacore tuna, outweigh the potential harm to your child, and to yourself.

Have you seen my other blog at USAToday.com?  It features tips for feeding your family healthy foods, and offers a weekly recipe that I prepare with my children as part of Cooking With My Kids.  This week’s recipe is Pumpkin Pancakes. They’re delicious, and good for you, too! Check out the recipe at http://tinyurl.com/4×2e5x.

September 14, 2009

Choline: Multivitamins Don’t Have Enough

Filed under: General Information, Nutrition During Pregnancy — Tags: , , , , , — Elizabeth Ward @ 10:39 am

Do you know what choline is? Most people do not, including women who may be pregnant, will become pregnant, or are nursing a child.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, choline happens to be very important during pregnancy and nursing, and women in this vulnerable population are coming up short for choline: only 14% of pregnant American women get enough choline in their diets.

Here’s why choline is critical. Choline helps to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) that form very early in pregnancy, often before a woman knows she’s pregnant. During pregnancy, choline fosters brain development. Because choline is part of all cells, it is necessary to support growth during pregnancy and infancy; nursing mothers need more choline than pregnant women.

Mom and dad require choline, too. Choline helps to head off heart disease and breast cancer, and it’s necessary for muscle and liver health.

Prescription and over-the-counter prenatal pills, and multivitamins, do not contain enough choline to meet your needs.  Nonpregnant women require 425 milligrams of choline daily; pregnant women need 450 milligrams; and nursing women, and men over the age of 13 should consume 550 milligrams of choline every day.

The great thing about choline is that it’s found in a wide variety of foods you probably have in your kitchen right now. Foods rich in protein, including eggs, pork, beef, and salmon, have the most choline. Plant foods provide less, but it is possible to get enough choline from a vegetarian eating plan that is careful to include an array of foods.

Meet your choline needs by including choline-rich foods every day as part of a balanced diet.  Here’s a chart of the choline content of some favorite foods, adapted from Expect the Best, to help:

• Egg, 1 large*, cooked any way: 125 milligrams

• Ground beef, 3 ounces, cooked : 83 milligrams

• Pork tenderloin, 3 ounces, cooked: 76 milligrams

• Salmon, 3 ounces, cooked: 65 milligrams

• Chicken, 3 ounces, cooked: 65 milligrams

• Navy beans or kidney beans, 1 cup, cooked: 45 milligrams

• Milk, 1% low fat, 1 cup: 45 milligrams

• Broccoli or cauliflower, 1 1/4 cups, cooked: 40 milligrams

* All of the choline is found in the egg yolk.

To learn more about choline, visit www.cholineinfo.org.