Fish is considered an important part of a heart-healthy diet. It’s filled with nutrients the body needs for growth and maintenance. But there are some concerns when it comes to tuna, especially for pregnant women and young kids. That’s because the fish is known to contain mercury.
If you’re a fan of tuna, then you may be thinking about giving it to your baby after you introduce your little one to solid foods. But you want to be safe, of course. You may be wondering if it’s OK to give baby tuna, and at what age? In general, pediatricians say parents can start introducing tuna at around 6 months of age.
Read on to learn more about including tuna in your baby’s diet, including tips from experts on how to prepare it.
Tuna offers protein without a high saturated fat content. It’s also high in omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins.
“Babies and young children require omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, available in fish, for proper growth and development,” says Ilana Muhlstein, R.D., a California-based dietitian. “Canned tuna is minimally processed and filled with good nutrition and simple ingredients.”
Omega-3s found in fish help with brain development in babies and children. The fatty acid aids in protecting the heart by lowering the risk of high blood pressure.
Not getting enough folate, a B vitamin, is linked to birth defects. The vitamin is important to early spinal cord development. B vitamins are also thought to help protect the body from heart disease and certain cancers.
The biggest concern with feeding babies tuna is mercury exposure. Mercury is a metal that’s found naturally and as a product of some manufacturing processes. When airborne mercury particles or vapor get into water and come in contact with bacteria, it’s turned into a substance that can be absorbed by fish living in that water.
People then eat the fish and absorb it themselves. Having too much mercury in your system can cause neurological problems.
The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises avoiding:
- king mackerel
The above fish have the highest mercury content. But for children, the FDA says that two to three age-appropriate servings of a low-mercury fish source per week should be safe.
There are different types of tuna, and some have more mercury than others. For example, albacore or “white tuna” has a higher mercury level. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists canned light tuna as a fish option with low mercury content. If you’re introducing your baby to tuna, canned light tuna is the best choice.
Whenever you introduce a new food to your baby, watch out for an allergic reaction. Fish is no exception. That’s why it’s important to know the signs of a food allergy, so you can get treatment right away.
“More traditional guidelines recommended avoiding seafood and fish for the first year. The new recommendation is that introduction of fish early on into the diet can be protective against allergies,” says Dr. Timothy Spence, an Austin-based pediatrician. “Tuna specifically isn’t really a food associated with allergies. Most seafood allergies are associated with shrimp or shellfish.”
Signs of a food allergy include:
- hives (red, itchy bumps)
- rashes (eczema can be triggered by allergies)
- swelling (lips, around eyes, tongue)
- trouble breathing
- tightness of throat
- upset stomach
- throwing up
- feeling lightheaded or dizzy
Call your doctor right away if your child has any of these symptoms. Food allergies can be very serious, and even deadly if left untreated.
Recipes for Baby
If you like to prepare your own baby food, put tuna in the blender. You can puree it into a yogurt-like consistency. Another option is to puree the tuna with a base, like avocado. But keep in mind: You should only try out multi-ingredient recipes after your baby has been introduced to each ingredient individually.
Here are some recipe ideas from nutritionists and bloggers on how to add tuna to your baby’s diet.
Tuna Salad with Yogurt, Served in an Avocado Boat
This blend, created by Muhlstein, offers a way to introduce tuna while also providing other essential nutrients. It makes 4 baby servings, or 2 adult servings.
- 1 can low sodium chunk light tuna, drained and mashed
- 1/4 cup organic whole milk (grass-fed, if available) plain yogurt
- 1 tbsp. of fresh chopped or dried parsley
- optional add-ins: 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, garlic powder, 1 tbsp. grated onion
- 1 ripe, medium avocado
- Combine first 3 ingredients in a bowl and mix well together.
- Add any add-ins of your choice.
- Mash well to ensure baby can gum and swallow the tuna mixture.
- Fill 1/4 of the tuna mixture into 1/4 of an avocado and feed small spoonfuls of each to baby.
These tuna cakes from Bethany of Baby Led Weaning Ideas have a short prep time and can be enjoyed by the whole family.
- 1 large can (12 oz.) of tuna
- something to make breadcrumbs (I used a single biscuit/scone)
- 1 egg
- 2 small potatoes, or 1 large one
- 1 tsp. of Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp. of onion flakes (or 1/2 of a small onion, chopped)
- Boil the potatoes for about 20 minutes.
- Mash the potatoes in a bowl (or using a food processor or blender).
- Turn your biscuit into breadcrumbs: Just pulverize them in a food processor!
- In a bowl, mix all the ingredients.
- In a skillet, heat some butter (or oil, but I love butter) on medium heat. They should cook about 6-8 minutes on one side, then another 3-4 on the other side.
Easy Hummus Fish Cakes
This recipe comes from the blog Peanut Diaries. The blogger says it’s one of her 7-month-old’s favorite meals. Recipe makes six to eight cakes.
- 1 tbsp. hummus (store-bought, homemade, or just chickpeas)
- 1 tbsp. tuna
- 1-2 tsp. flour
- basil (or any other herb you might have on hand)
- black pepper
- optional dash of lemon juice
- Add all the ingredients to a bowl, and mix well. You can’t add too much flour, as the hummus stops taking flour when it’s saturated.
- Spoon the mix into a warmed frying pan (you can use a drop of oil if you like); it should be the consistency of cookie dough.
- Turn a few times until it looks nice.