Why to Avoid Tuna Fish during Pregnancy

Though tuna fish is rich in nutrients, it has a dark side. Women are often advised to avoid consuming large amounts of tuna during pregnancy.

Many women consume tuna not only for its taste, but also for its many nutrients. Low in fat, tuna contains omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin B and a host of other nutrients. Read on to learn why many pregnant women avoid this healthy food.


Unfortunately, tuna fish, like all types of fish, usually contains at least some mercury. Fish contaminated with mercury can pose a health risk for anyone, but it is particularly troublesome for unborn babies. When pregnant women consume too much of it, their babies may be at an increased risk of nervous system problems and brain damage. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed some guidelines for consuming tuna during pregnancy. To help keep your baby unharmed, you need not give up tuna altogether. Instead, the FDA recommends reducing your intake.

What Kind of Tuna Is Safe During Pregnancy?

There are different types of tuna, and some contain more mercury than others. Canned albacore and fresh bluefin tuna are higher in mercury than other types. As such, a pregnant woman may choose to avoid them or restrict her intake. Canned light tuna and fresh Pacific albacore tuna both contain mercury as well, but they typically contain less than canned albacore and fresh bluefin varieties. In fact, canned light tuna contains about a third of the mercury contamination typical of canned albacore tuna. 

How Much Tuna Fish Is Safe?

According to the FDA, a pregnant woman should restrict her canned light or fresh albacore tuna consumption to two meals per week or less. Considering 6 oz. of canned tuna a meal, this means you should have no more than 12 oz., or two cans, of this lower-mercury fish weekly. The FDA, however, recommends only half as much canned albacore and fresh bluefin tuna. You should eat no more than one meal, or 6 oz., of this type of tuna per week.

While the FDA doesn’t recommend avoiding tuna altogether, some women choose to do so. For many, this is because of the potential for mercury-level variation from can to can. It is possible that some cans of light tuna may have higher levels of mercury contamination than is expected.

Other Types of Fish

When considering how much tuna you will eat in a given week, don’t forget that other fish contains mercury as well. If you eat two meals of lower-mercury tuna and then also eat a meal of crab, shrimp, salmon or catfish, you may inadvertently consume more mercury than you want. To avoid the potential dangers to your developing child, it’s wise to consider all of your fish intake and strive for no more than 12 oz. of any low-mercury fish. There are, however, some types of fish you should avoid altogether because their mercury content is dangerously high. They include the following:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Mackerel

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