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Fish for young children

fish; mercury;

Eating fish is good for the health of infants and young children in several ways, including building a strong heart and nervous system.

Contents

Eating fish is good for the health of infants and young children in several ways, including building a strong heart and nervous system.

  • Fish is an excellent source of protein and is rich in important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and iodine.
  • Fish is high in unsaturated fat and omega 3 fatty acids.

But fish also contain mercury, and high levels of mercury are not good for young, developing children.

  • Low levels of mercury appear not to cause problems.
  • High levels of mercury in a pregnant mother's diet can harm the brain of a developing child.
  • The development of the brain of babies and young children is not so much at risk from mercury as that of an unborn baby. However it is still best if young children do not eat as much fish as older children and adults.

How much mercury is in fish?

The following information is advice for Australians only. Mercury levels in fish in other regions may be higher.

  • Mercury occurs naturally in ocean and river environments, and it accumulates in the food chain, including in fish. All fish contain some mercury, and for most people, fish is their main source of mercury.
  • The level of mercury in most fish is very low, but in large, long living fish, their levels will rise during their lifetime. These fish include billfish (swordfish, broadbill and marlin), shark (flake), orange roughy (sea perch) and catfish.

How much fish?

  • It is recommended that young children (under 6 years old) eat 2 to 3 serves of fish each week, but not the long living fish listed above.
  • Small fish are good for small children. When choosing the best fish for children a good rule is that when whole, the fish should be small enough to fit on a plate.
  • A serve for a young child is about 75g which is about the amount of 3 fish fingers.
  • Canned tuna is a good choice as the mercury levels are very low (only small tuna are used for canning).
  • For children over 6 and adults, 2 to 3 serves of fish (about 150 gm) is recommended each week, or one serve per week of the longer living fish listed above.

Guidelines for pregnant women are in the topic Eating well in pregnancy.

References

Food Standards Australia New Zealand 'Mercury in fish' brochure

Food Standards Australia New Zealand 'Mercury in fish – updated information'.
http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/mercury/Pages/default.aspx 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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