The Importance of Eating Fish During Pregnancy
In the past few decades, researchers have been investigating the role of omega-3 fatty acids and optimum health. Studies have consistently proven that these healthy long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids play a key role in disease prevention, nourishing and protecting the brain, eyes, immune system, and cardiovascular system. Perhaps the most important discovery is the positive effect that omega-3 fatty acid has during pregnancy. Fish and seafood are some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. They are direct sources of both EPA (eicosapentainoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which are both derivatives of the primary source of omega-3’s - ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
American and British scientists found that children whose mothers had eaten twelve ounces of fish a week during pregnancy had higher cognitive abilities and less behavioral problems. Researchers have also linked stronger vision development in children whose mothers consumed adequate seafood. Omega-3 fatty acid is not only beneficial to developing fetuses, it is an essential part of early pregnancy nutrition.
What exactly does this essential fatty acid do? Omega-3’s are needed for the development of the nervous system, the heart and respiratory system, the brain, and the eyes. They are known to prevent pre-term labor and to increase the overall health of pregnant women. Of the three grams of omega-3 fatty acid that a pregnant woman should eat in a day, a three ounce piece of fish can supply as much as one third. Wild salmon has about one gram; other fish and shellfish have less. Because of the mercury found in seafood, the FDA recommends that women only eat twelve ounces a week of fish during pregnancy. Mercury can cause neurological damage in a developing fetus. For this reason large predatory fish, such as swordfish, tilefish, shark, and mackerel should be altogether avoided.
Pregnancy and Nausea
The most important time in a woman’s life to eat baked salmon, tuna salad sandwiches, and fried shrimp, is when all these foods are absolutely repulsive to her. During the first trimester, pregnancy and nausea go hand in hand. Many women cannot stand to be in the same room as pungent odors such as cooking seafood, let alone eat a piece of fish.
It is estimated that eighty percent of pregnant women experience some level of nausea, usually throughout the day. It begins around four weeks, and tapers off in the middle of the second trimester. Although the exact reason for nausea from pregnancy is unknown, it is believed to be due to the rapid shift in hormones, as estrogen and hCG levels rise dramatically early on.
Even if it is undesirable to eat fish during pregnancy, it is still easy to consume enough valuable omega-3 fatty acids.
Alternative Sources of Nutrition During Pregnancy
The simplest way to supplement your nutrition needs during pregnancy is to take fish oil capsules. Fish oil is rich in both EPA and DHA. Flax seed oil, the next best source of omega-3 fatty acids, also comes in capsule form.
Although supplements work well, also look for good sources of omega-3 fatty acids in whole foods. Hemp seeds and hemp oil, walnuts, tofu, soy milk, and eggs (only when the chickens were fed a diet of insects and greens) all supply omega-3 during pregnancy. Green leafy vegetables and olive oil also have a small amount. Another option is DHA-fortified milk.
Make sure to eat a variety of sources every day. Salads are a wonderful food during pregnancy - they are refreshing and nourishing. Use dark green vegetables, and a dressing made from hemp seed oil. Try eating tofu twice a week - it is extremely mild and versatile, as well as a great source of protein and minerals. Also, snack on walnuts throughout the day - avoiding an empty stomach is actually one way to minimize nausea.
Eventually, the nausea will subside, the smell of fish won’t turn your stomach, and you can enjoy seafood once again.