Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Moms Who Eat This Have Smarter Kids

Diet for a pregnant woman: Eat fish. Preschoolers whose moms had a diet rich in low-mercury fish have sharper minds than their friends whose moms didn't eat it, Reuters reports of a new study from Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The magic amount is more than two servings of fish a week. Moms who consumed this much while pregnant now have three-year-olds who perform better on tests of verbal, visual and motor development. But it must be fish that is low in mercury. Kids whose moms had high mercury levels in their blood during pregnancy had lower test scores. Unfortunately, mothers who regularly ate fish during pregnancy were more likely to have those high blood levels of mercury than were non-fish eaters.

"Recommendations for fish consumption during pregnancy should take into account the nutritional benefits of fish as well as the potential harms from mercury exposure," says lead researcher Dr. Emily Oken. Fish that should be avoided because it is high in mercury, which is toxic to developing brain cells, include shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Even tuna, salmon and sardines, which are packed with omega-3 fatty acids that are vital for fetal and child brain development, are more likely than not to be contaminated with mercury.

The study: Blood samples were taken from 341 women during their second trimester of pregnancy. Each woman was asked how often she ate various foods, including fish. When their children turned three years old, they were given standard tests of vocabulary, visual-spatial skills and fine-motor coordination of the hands and fingers.

The results: Overall the children whose mothers ate fish more than twice a week had higher test scores, reports Reuters. The children of mothers whose mercury levels were in the top 10 percent of the study had lower test scores than the kids of mothers whose mercury levels were lower. Only 2 percent of mothers who never ate fish during pregnancy had blood mercury levels that high, compared with 23 percent of those who ate fish more than twice weekly, explains Reuters.

The takeaway: While pregnant, eat fish that is low in mercury, including canned light tuna (not albacore, which is higher in mercury), some salmon, cod and haddock. The study findings were reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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