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Thursday, December 8, 2016

LOS ANGELES — The advice to eat more seafood for a healthy heart might be familiar, but when consumers get to the fish counter, there are confusing questions galore: Which types have the most of those good fatty acids? Which are high in mercury? Which are better for the environment?

The Environmental Working Group, in a report out this week, says the federal government is not doing a good enough job at answering those questions for consumers, especially when it comes to advice covering children and pregnant women.

“You can’t just tell people to double or triple their consumption” without clear information about what to eat, Sonya Lunder, one of the authors of the report, said by phone Tuesday.

People who follow the federal government’s advice could consume too much mercury or too few omega-3 fatty acids, the fats that are good for the heart, the report concludes.

The federal dietary guidelines for Americans, which offer consumption advice and affect programs such as school lunches, were last issued in January 2011 and called for increased consumption of seafood. Other federal agencies also have guidance about seafood.

Federal agencies are considering 2015 guidelines, and the Environmental Protection Agency is modernizing its seafood guidelines.
The Environmental Working Group has several recommendations, including:

It would like to see “portion-based guidelines for people who face various levels of risk, such as pregnant women, children and adults with cardiac disease.” And it would like to see fish choices highlighted that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, low in mercury and sustainably produced, as well as “moderate mercury species” that might pose problems for some people.

The EPA should lower its “safe” mercury level, the report said. That recommendation is based on evidence that “suggests that mercury does more potent damage to the developing brain than previously thought.”

Lunder said the federal government should be more explicit about what to eat and not.

Dietary guidelines suggest 8 or more ounces a week of a variety of species of seafood, less for young children. Average consumption is about 3.5 ounces a week.

Federal officials tell pregnant women to eat a variety of seafood, and to avoid tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel, and to limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week because of the mercury content of those fish.

But the Environmental Working Group report said pregnant women who complied with the dietary guidelines to double seafood consumption “could run the risk of consuming harmful amounts of mercury.”