Recently there was a lot of talk about fish in the UK press. This was mainly due to the fact that fresh tuna, which was once considered to be an “oily” fish has been somewhat downgraded and no longer counts as an oily fish due to data suggesting that levels of omega-3 in fresh tuna are similar to omega-3 levels in non-oily, white fish. So I thought I would write a blog about fish recommendations for babies and toddlers as well as ideas for food alternatives.
When it comes to babies, many people are seemingly nervous about offering fish during the introduction of solid foods. However, fish provides an important source of nutrients including proteins, iron and omega-3 fatty acids.
When should I offer my baby fish?
Guidelines in the UK recommend that fish can be offered as a food to baby from 6 months of age. In fact the NHS suggests that once baby is comfortable with their first solid foods mashed fish (without any bones) is a good food option to offer.
However, there are restrictions on how much should be offered, mainly when it comes to oily and larger fish.
What is an oily fish?
Oily fish includes fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and herring which are particularly high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and also a good source of vitamin D (NHS). Fish in general tends to be a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, calcium and selenium. These nutrients, including omega-3, are important for heart health and also for supporting the healthy development of baby during pregnancy and beyond (BDA). During pregnancy omega-3 fatty acids are additionally important for the development of a baby’s central nervous system.
How much fish is recommended for a baby?
There is no specific recommendation regarding how much fish a baby should eat. However, for most of the population the fish recommendations for babies and toddlers is that we should be eating two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily. Around 140g counts as a portion of oily fish for adults and those over 12 years of age.
When offering fish to your baby it’s a good idea to stick with the same recommendations – 2 portions of fish a week and one of which is oily but just be mindful about offering much smaller portion sizes to younger children.
The British Dietetic Association offers these recommendations when it comes to portion sizes of OILY FISH for different age groups:
Table 1: Oily fish portion sizes (taken from the BDA)
Other UK based organisations have similar recommendations and it seems for a 1-4 year old the following are appropriate portion sizes for a variety of different fish options:
- ¼ – 1 small fillet of oily or white fish or around 40g
- ½-1 tablespoon of tinned fish or around 40g
Remember that portion sizes will vary depending on ages and younger children/babies will need smaller portion sizes than older babies/children.
What about the restrictions when it comes to fish?
There are however some specific restrictions when it comes to offering different types of fish to different groups of the population, especially young children and pregnant women.
I have summarised these in the table below which breaks down the type of fish and age group so you can easily see if you need to be restricting the amount of fish that you’re eating or offering to young children.
On top of these fish recommendations for babies and toddlers, pregnant women are recommended to have no more than two 140g portions of fresh tuna or four 140g tins of tuna a week.
Why is fish restricted?
It’s so important to remember that fish, especially oily fish, offers benefits such as omega-3 fatty acids, which are hard to get from elsewhere in the diet. So making sure that you DO offer children fish regularly is important. However there are restrictions on how much we should be eating when it comes to fish as fish can pick up pollutants such as mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) from the sea. Pollutants can be stored in the fish’s flesh and then passed on to us in very small amounts when we eat them.
Oily fish – this can contain very low levels of PCBs which can build up in the body and may affect development of a baby or even a future baby in the womb.
Shark/Swordfish/Marlin – large fish that eat other fish and therefore may have a build up of mercury in their flesh which can be passed on to humans if consumed. Mercury may also affect the development of a baby’s nervous system. Shark and marlin are also endangered and risk extinction so we should avoid these types for this reason too.
Raw shellfish – shellfish is OK to offer to babies and young children in small amounts but raw shellfish isn’t recommended to children due to the risk of food poisoning.
White fish – this type of fish is not restricted but there are a few white fish options that should not be eaten too often. These include sea bream, sea bass, turbot, halibut and rock salmon. These are, again, restricted as they are likely to have larger levels of pollutants than other white fish.
What if I don’t like fish or don’t want to offer it to my baby?
This is very common in a world where plant-based diets are popular. It’s not really a problem if you’re not offering fish to your children as long as they are having a well-balanced diet AND you’re offering plant-based sources of omega-3 including:
- Ground or chopped walnuts
- Rapeseed oil
- Milled linseed or flaxseed, chia seed and hemp seeds
- Soya and soya products
- Green leafy vegetables
However, it is hard to get enough of the right kind of omega-3 from these foods alone so you might want to consider an omega-3 vegan supplement (such as algal oil) that is appropriate for your baby/toddler. Chat to your health visitor, GP or pharmacist about which options are suitable.
Fish is an important source of nutrients and a good way to offer essential fatty acids, protein and iron to a baby. It is however important not to offer some types of fish at all and to limit the amount of other fish you may offer. 40g is roughly a portion for babies and young children and one or two portions of fish (one being oily) a week is ideal. There are other foods that can be offered to babies who aren’t having fish such as ground nuts, tofu and eggs alongside a varied and balanced diet. These are my fish recommendations for babies and toddlers – feel free to make your own suggestions or ask any questions.