Our 13-month old son is dairy-intolerant, and we're trying to feed him a good balanced diet, but recently his nursery has been feeding him a lot of fish (one to two meals a day, three days a week).

Is this too much fish? Does it depend what type of fish? I've looked online but can't find anything, but would like to double-check here.

asked 22 Feb '10, 10:20

pete%20the%20pagan-gerbil's gravatar image

pete the pagan-gerbil
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http://nutrition.about.com/od/healthyfood1/a/goodfishbadfish.htm - "Almost all fish is contaminated with trace amounts of mercury. While most healthy adults have no problem eliminating the mercury from their bodies, children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid some types of fish and shellfish to reduce their risk of mercury exposure.

Fish that contain the highest level of mercury are larger and older sharks, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish."

As long as they don't feed sharks at the nursery, I guess it's safe enough :)

(22 Feb '10, 11:09) brandstaetter

I'm not quite sure why you had trouble finding anything online. I googled "mercury in fish" and got 12,800,000 hits, with the first one being a really clear one from the US EPA and several other extremely helpful ones on the top page.

(22 Feb '10, 18:53) lgritz

Because I was searching for 'recommended fish' and 'too much fish' alongside 'baby diet'. I know if I look for bad stuff I'll find loads of it!

(23 Feb '10, 08:56) pete the pagan-gerbil


This UK government site recommends up to four portions of oily fish per week for boys and two for girls.


answered 22 Feb '10, 11:00

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Phil Seller
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edited 22 Feb '10, 11:44

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Rich Seller

+1 Nice answer!

(22 Feb '10, 11:28) Emi

Accepted as the best all-round resource, I think we'll try to get more leaflets and whatnot straight from his dietitian to take to the nursery. It's been a bit of a running battle, getting him fed...

(23 Feb '10, 17:09) pete the pagan-gerbil

You might want to look at what the EPA has to say about it: http://www.epa.gov/fishadvisories/advice/. Also a PBS NOVA documentary.

The amount of mercury differs significantly with the type of fish. Generally speaking, the big fish at the top of the food chain (shark, swordfish, etc.) have the highest mercury concentrations, small fish lower on the food chain are not as bad. As for tuna, albacore has a lot more mercury than canned light tuna.

Generally speaking, the recommendations seem to be to stick to no more than 2 fish meals per week, of the low-mercury variety. Given what I've read, I would not be eating (or feeding a child) fish multiple meals a day as you describe, and I wouldn't feed them the high-mercury varieties at all (including the kinds of tuna with high levels).

Incidentally, if you're going to get active about it, not only should you be concerned about mercury, but also about the sustainability of the fisheries. (So our grandchildren don't ask us "you mean you used to EAT fish? from the OCEAN?") A fantastic resource for this info (including a handy pocket guide to which fish are sustainable and which aren't, sorted by geographic region) is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.


answered 22 Feb '10, 18:49

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We just watched a dolphin documentary on this (http://www.firstshowing.net/2009/06/15/chilling-official-trailer-for-dolphin-documentary-the-cove/), I had no idea before this that it was actually NOT good in this day in age to buy/eat fish caught wild from the ocean because of all the craziness going on out there.

(23 Feb '10, 22:51) Sabrina

Some wild (ocean) fisheries are well managed, others are not. Do your homework. Do NOT switch to "farmed" fish to avoid the problems, fish farming can be extremely devastating, environmentally. (Two problems: What do you feed a lot of enclosed fish? Where does the waste go?)

(24 Feb '10, 00:02) lgritz

Interesting, they were pretty anti-wild fishing (maybe they were being specific to Japan) in that documentary. We don't really eat fish anyway.

(24 Feb '10, 05:55) Sabrina

I think Phil Seller's link is a good resource.

I would recommend you first speak with his nursery regarding the menu and ask for information regarding the food served. I think as a parent you have every right to know what your child is being fed. Additionally I would like to believe that the diet and meals prepared for the little ones at the nursery are regulated.

Depending on the answers given to you, you could then see whether the amounts are indeed too excessive or not depending on the type of fish and amounts being served.

Other than oily fish which should not exceed the amounts stated by Phil Seller, I believe that there are also non oily fish varieties that can be consumed more liberally and there are sea food types to be avoided altogether.

Note: Canned Tuna does not count as Oily fish!


answered 22 Feb '10, 11:27

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edited 22 Feb '10, 11:43

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Rich Seller

Thanks for the note, the fish they feed him most often is tuna ;) We've already been talking to them because they offer a terrific menu, and an alternative vegetarian one, but it's taken some fighting to get a varied dairy-free menu (let alone a nutritious one!)

Now the job is relaying his dietitian's instructions to the chef...

(22 Feb '10, 15:19) pete the pagan-gerbil

Whilst canned tuna doesn't contain the good omega-3 oils, it does contain the mercury contamination http://www.edf.org/article.cfm?contentID=7682

(22 Feb '10, 19:05) Meg Stephenson

@Meg Stephenson Thanks for pointing that out! @pete the pagan gerbil Hope the info was helpful. Close observation of the types of canned tuna seems advisable.

(22 Feb '10, 22:22) Emi

@Meg - yes, although the food is prepared outside of the nursery so it may not be too transparent...

(23 Feb '10, 17:06) pete the pagan-gerbil

As well as mercury, you should be aware of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in fish. These organic (as in carbon based) substances are absorbed by carbon life-forms and accumulate, since they don't degrade. Life-forms which are more steps up any food chain will have higher concentrations since they have both their own direct exposure and that which they absorb via their food. Marine food chains tend to be longer than land-based ones, so predators at the top of marine food chains can carry very high levels of POPs. Hence the particular problems with eating larger carnivorous fish.


answered 22 Feb '10, 22:16

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Meg Stephenson
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Asked: 22 Feb '10, 10:20

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Last updated: 22 Feb '10, 22:16