Fish like salmon and mackerel are low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids. Creative Commons

The U.S. government has determined that the nutritional benefits of eating fish outweigh concerns over mercury and suggests women who are pregnant should increase their weekly consumption of fish, the Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday.

“For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children,” Stephen Ostroff, M.D., the FDA’s acting chief scientist, said in a statement. “But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health.”

How much fish does the FDA recommend? Eight to 12 ounces per week of low-mercury fish, according to the new draft advice, a recommendation that is consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“Eating fish with lower levels of mercury provides numerous health and dietary benefits,” said Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Water. “This updated advice will help pregnant women and mothers make informed decisions about the right amount and right kinds of fish to eat during important times in their lives and their children’s lives.”

For a decade, the FDA has warned pregnant or breastfeeding women and young children to avoid certain types of high-mercury fish over concerns that developing brains are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of mercury.

The new advice is a departure from that previous conclusion based on a better understanding of which fish are less harmful and which should be avoided.

Fish that are low in mercury include salmon, shrimp, pollock, catfish, haddock, tilapia and canned light tuna.