Your Children Got Fish? (Pedcast)


Welcome to Portable Practical Pediatrics. One of the things that distinguishes the poor state of the average American child is their lack of consumption of fish. Americans just don’t seem to eat much fish and when they do, they often prepare it in an unhealthy fashion. Recently, the EPA has put out some guidelines for pregnant  women and parents of young children to help bring fish safely into the diets of children. In today’s pedcast, I thought we might take a few minutes to go over why all parents should make an attempt to get healthy fish into their children’s diet and go over these new guidelines put out by the EPA. So, sit back, pop open a can of sardines, crank up the volume on that mp3 player, and listen to this important edition of Portable Practical Pediatrics.

Musical Introduction

Why is consumption of fish good for a child?

Fish has been part of the traditional diet for humans for thousands of years. It provides a rich source of protein, iron and other minerals, and essential fats (also known as fatty acids) called omega-3s. Why is eating omega-3 oils important for your child you are wondering? Because their little brains are literally made of fat, and those omega-3 fats are a vital part of your child’s brain structure. It turns out that your child’s brain has the highest concentration of fat of any of their body organs and the more omega-3 fats a child has in their brain, the better their brain function is likely to be. In fact, what my parents used to tell me at the dinner table, “Paul, eat your fish, it will make you smarter” was actually correct!  It is a proven fact that many children who exhibit the behavior pattern we call ADHD, improve their brain function when they get a steady diet of fish oil. Improvements are seen in the child’s memory, speed of processing, attention span, and ability to manipulate information with the consumption of this oil or simply by eating healthy fish regularly.  In other words, the fats in fish, the omega- threes, improves your child’s cognitive ability. Who doesn’t want that! Yes, these kind of fats are found in some nuts and plant based foods, but not nearly to the degree that are found in fish. I think it is safe to say that the consensus among nutrition experts is that pregnant mom’s, older infants, and children should have a steady intake of the nutrients that are found in fish, especially during periods of rapid brain growth.


When and Which Fish Should Pregnant Mothers and their Children Eat?

First the when question. Since we have learned that fish seems to be a wonder food for your child’s brain, we want them to get the benefits of its power during their in-utero development, as well as, all through their childhoods. During the majority of my pediatric career, I have been advising parents to hold off feeding shellfish and fish to a baby’s diet until sometime after one year of age for fear of creating a a food allergy in the child. Recent evidence however, has changed that thinking and now fish, shellfish, as well as other allergenic foods are recommended to be introduced in your child’s diet as soon as they start eating solid foods, unless they have other immediate food allergies or severe eczema. That unless, is an important unless. Don’t miss this point and just give highly allergenic foods to your child if they are likely to have food allergies.  Careful testing and introduction by an allergist is advised in these children.


So now to the which fish question. Unfortunately, your children are growing up in a world where exposure to the toxin mercury is a real concern, especially, for their healthy brain development. It turns out that fish that don’t eat other fish have lower mercury levels than those that eat other fish, the so called predator fish. Generally, this translates into your children eating small fish but not large fish. That makes sense, doesn’t it? You can see this association in the guide I have posted with the transcript of this podcast. Moms and children should avoid eating the big aggressive predator fish like Shark, Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Albacore white tuna. If you are listening to this post and not reading it, take a minute to look over the EPA’s advise in the chart I have put one my website,


But there  are many popular fish options that are safe for you and your children to eat. Yum. There are plenty of varieties of fish here to choose from. Let me read them to you. I learned in previous pedcast from a food expert Charlotte Rouchouze, that much of the world introduces fish among baby’s first foods.  Fish is often one of the first foods a baby gets in many cultures. I think it is time for this to become the norm in the U.S. as well. Note, in the list of safe fish in the transcript accompanying this pedcast, that the little red asterisks next to the fish just means that these fish are heavily fished are in low numbers, not that they shouldn’t be eaten.


Does the Method of Cooking Affect the Benefits Your Children Eating Fish?

So we have seen that for your children, eating low mercury fish can have great benefits for their health and cognitive function but the next question you are likely to have is, “Does the cooking method affect the nutritional value of the fish?”  And I think you know the answer, “Of course it does”! Breading your children’s fish with loads of carbohydrates, frying it in super hot unhealthy oils, and adding lots of salt, not only adds lots of calories to the fish but undoubtedly lowers its nutritional quality. Sorry. When you think healthy, think about cooking with the B methods…broiling,  boiling, baking, or backyard grilling, We live in the era of the 24 hour a day cooking channel and our best selling books are usually cookbooks so get out there and get inventive. Learn to cook and eat fish regularly. Fish consumption is vital for both you and your children’s long term health. Make sure your family is getting the benefits.

Outro with Music and terms

If you enjoy learning about child health topics with Portable Practical Pediatrics, please take a moment to write a review on iTunes or at my Facebook page, This helps others find my blog. Thanks for joining me today. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, hoping that you find a way to make eating fish, something delish. Until next time.


Edited by Monica MillerMD FAAP- thanks Monica.

Smo Notes:

  1. AAP recommendations on starting complimentary foods.

2.EPA”s latest recommendations for fish consumption

3. Mercury levels in women of childbearing age falling significantly past decade

4, Cooking fish affect its nutritional value?

5. Does Eating Fish Make You Smarter?

6. What is the human brain made of?

7. Fish mercury content-more complete-National Resource Defense Council-wallet card