Fish & Mercury – a Q&A
Including fish as part of normal, healthy and varied diet is important for your child’s health. Fish is high in protein, low in fat, and contains essential omega-3 fatty acids necessary for childrens’ growth and development, in particular their brain and vision.
There is often a lot of talk about mercury levels in fish and the effects of mercury. This often leads to families being hesitant to introduce fish into their children’s diet. We have put together a small Q&A to help clear up some of the important information we think you need to know about mercury in fish.
What is mercury and why is it found in fish?
Mercury is an element found naturally in air, water and food. It is also found as an introduced contaminant. Fish absorb mercury from water via their gills as they swim and via their digestive system when they feed. Mercury levels vary a lot between fish. The good news is that most fish found in Australian waters have low levels of mercury. Fish which tend to have higher levels of mercury are larger fish, fish who are predators and fish who are long-living and accumulate mercury over time.
What are the effects of mercury?
Mercury affects the nervous system. The developing brain and nervous system in the unborn baby and young child is particularly sensitive to mercury. Exposure to high levels of mercury while in the womb has been linked to delayed development as a child resulting in delayed walking and talking, language and memory difficulties. These delays may only be subtle and difficult to notice.
What types of fish contain HIGH levels of mercury?
Shark (flake), ray, swordfish, barrumundi, gemfish, orange roughy, ling, southern blue fin tuna.
Note: It is important to remember that when buying takeaway ‘fish and chips’ it is usually shark (flake) that you buy unless it’s stated otherwise.
Which types of fish contain LOWER levels of mercury?
Shellfish (prawns, lobsters, oysters), squid and octopus, flathead, snapper, salmon, trout, trevally, whiting, anchovy, mullet, bream, garfish.
These fish also contain good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in addition to being lower in mercury: mackeral, atlantic salmon, herrings, sardines, canned salmon and tuna in oil.
Who needs to be careful about the mercury levels in fish?
Mercury, when consumed as part of a normal, healthy diet is not usually a problem for most healthy adults and children. Most people can safely eat fish 2-3 times per week. However, the following groups do need to be particularly careful about the mercury levels in fish and how much they consume:
- Pregnant women & women planning to be pregnant
- Breastfeeding women
- Children up to the age of 6
So, how much fish can we eat?
Australian guidelines for safe levels of mercury in the diet have been developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). The following table, based on the guidelines, gives you information about the quantity and type of fish you can safely eat.
Should I still serve fish to my children?
Fish is high in protein, low in fat, contains essential omega-3 fatty acids, and provides many important vitamins and minerals necessary for their growth and development, particularly of their brain and vision. It is important that you and your children continue to enjoy fish as part of a healthy, balanced and varied diet.
Where can I go for more information?
I need some new fish recipes!
Here are some of our favourite one handed cooks fish recipes you may be interested in trying with your baby, toddler or family.