Is Fish Healthy for My Child?

By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND
No Image

One fish, two fish, good fish, bad fish.

Parents often wonder if they should feed their children fish. After all, nearly all fish contain trace amounts of methylmercury, an environmental contaminant. In large amounts, all forms of mercury are toxic to nerve cells and can cause vision problems, poor coordination and learning impairments.

When it comes to mercury toxicity, the emphasis is on "large amounts." Not consuming enough fish has its risks too, as it is a primary source of the long-chain omega-3 essential fatty acid DHA. Children need these specialized fats to build the structure of their brains from the time of conception through adolescence. Without an ample supply of omega-3 fats, the body incorporates other fatty acids which do not confer the same benefits to the brain and nervous system.

So what makes parents leery of fish? In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency jointly issued a warning to children, pregnant women and nursing mothers to limit fish to a couple meals weekly and to completely avoid the four fish with the highest levels of mercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Limit albacore "white" tuna to just once per week, the report added as it is fifth on the list of high-mercury fish. Confusion spread along with the news. Many people became unnecessarily fearful and shunned all fish including the ever-popular, low-mercury canned light tuna.

In 2016, the FDA and EPA released an "Advice About Eating Fish" chart which recommends children consume 1 to 2 servings per week of fish, beginning at age 2. About 2 ounces of fish is a good serving size for children. The chart lists "best choices" along with those to avoid.

Omega-3 fats aren't the only nutritional reward. Fish offers protein, iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium, with varying amounts depending on the type of fish.

Find An Expert

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN) deliver the highest level of nutrition counseling. Search our database of nutrition experts to find someone in your area!

Search Now