I care passionately about nourishing skin from without with Nom Nom skincare’s carefully formulated blends of oils and butters and I am equally keen to pass on my nutritional expertise regarding the importance of oiling your body from within. Fats in the diet are necessary for providing fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids and one of the most important foods for providing the Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, is fish.
These essential fatty acids are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and positive effects on circulatory, skin and brain health and a healthy intake of omega 3 has particular relevance during pregnancy, breastfeeding and when weaning. When nutrition educator Robert Crayhon M.S was asked what single dietary change he would make that would benefit the whole world he answered, “give every pregnant woman fish oil supplements”. Research suggests his thinking may be correct and that providing the right oils from the very start of life can have long term positive outcomes for future health.
Studies have shown that low omega 3, especially DHA, during pregnancy can result in children with more coordination, behavioural and learning difficulties such as hyperactivity and dyslexia (these same conditions often respond well to fish oil supplementation). Eating oily fish while pregnant leads to higher IQ, better language and communication skills and greater visual acuity in the baby and throughout childhood. Fish intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding can also reduce the incidence of atopic diseases, eczema and asthma. They are especially important during the last trimester when major nervous system, eye and brain development take place and in the first few months of life. In addition regular fish consumption reduces the likelihood of preterm delivery, results in better birth weight and can even mean a baby has better sleeping patterns! Fish eating mums also lessen their chances of developing postnatal depression. All good reasons to go fish for a healthy pregnancy, baby and beyond.
Although there are plenty of compelling reasons to include fish, with this food becoming more contaminated, there are also concerns. So how much should you eat, which should you include and which should you avoid?
For starters it is advised to avoid raw fish when you are expecting so sushi and fruit de mer are off the menu. Current advice is for pregnant women, (and children up to 16), to avoid swordfish, marlin and shark due to the high levels of mercury they contain, as this toxic metal can effect neurological development in the foetus or child. Likewise, tinned tuna should be limited to four cans a week. There is no need to limit white fish such as cod, plaice and haddock which are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. While white fish are not as power packed nutritionally as their oily counterparts (fresh tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards, herring, anchovies and trout) the fats in oily fish create a double edged sword. On one side they contain the excellent omega 3 fatty acids which confer all the benefits. On the other, as pollutants are stored in fatty tissue, undesirable dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) can be present. Sea bass, bream, rock salmon, crab, turbot and halibut may contain similar levels of pollutants to oily fish but have less of the beneficial oils.
It all depends on your personal preferences of course but, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, favour oily fish over those just listed, include one or two of portions a week and if you’re a big fish fan also add in some white fish. Choose wild fish over farmed or go for organic farmed fish. That way you will be getting all the benefits and minimising the negatives.
If there’s no family history of fish allergy then keep up the good work when weaning and develop a liking for fish in your child. Make sure fish is well cooked, bone free and avoid smoked fish which is too high in salt. Start by pureeing fish with sweet vegetables if spoon feeding, progressing on to (or from the start if baby led weaning) homemade fish cakes, goujons or fish pie which can be shared by the whole family. Once they are over age one saltier foods like good old pilchards on toast can be a healthy staple and were a firm favourite when my children were small.
If you don’t like the taste of fish or worry about the provenance you could get those important fatty acids from supplements. Many quality brands screen and purify the oil and guarantee mercury and PCB free so you should look for this quality assurance when you buy. Avoid fish liver oils, these are not such a good source of omega 3, are too high in vitamin A for pregnancy and, as the liver is the main organ of detoxification, a source of toxins. A note of caution – as fish oil is an anticoagulant it is advisable to stop any supplements a couple of weeks before your due date as a precaution in case you require a C-section
Sardines are inexpensive, loaded with vitamin D, calcium and EFAs and super quick if you open a can (go for those packed in olive oil or tomato sauce). If you have a little more time or fancy something a bit more adventurous try this
Adjust quantities according to taste
Fresh sardines (whole or fillets)
A bunch of dill and parsley
Lemon zest and lemon juice
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
Fresh breadcrumbs (optional)
Sea salt and ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to the highest setting. Trim and fillet the fish if buying whole. Mix together finely chopped herbs and roughly chopped nuts with garlic and lemon zest. Open out the fish fillet and lay half of them skin side down on an oiled baking tray. Sprinkle with lemon juice, spread the mixture over the fish then place another sardine skin side up on top. Scatter breadcrumbs over if using, season and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 8 minutes. Serve hot or cold.
Jayne Russell has over twenty years of experience as a pre’ and postnatal massage and nutritional therapist and is the founder of Nom Nom – award winning, certified organic pregnancy and baby skincare. Sign up for your free skincare guide “10 Steps to Super Healthy Baby Skin” at nomnomskincare.com