Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated fats that protect against heart disease, have anti-inflammatory properties, aid in proper retinal and brain development, and improve focus and behaviour in children.
Omega-3 fat is an essential fat, meaning the body cannot produce it and the fat must be derived from the diet. In the body, omega-3s are broken down into easily absorbable units called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Unfortunately, most North American children are chronically deficient in this “good” fat. Allergies, eczema, constipation, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and other learning disabilities have all been linked to a deficiency of omega-3 fats. While the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is approximately 1:1, due to the over consumption of vegetable oils such safflower and sunflower (from processed foods), the average ratio ranges between 20:1 and 30:1. In short, too much omega-6 blocks the proper absorption of omega-3 fats.
There is plenty of research on the benefits of omega-3 supplementation. It is important for parents to include omega-3 fats as a daily staple in their child’s diet. In fact, 60 percent of a child’s brain and retina is comprised of essential fat needed for proper nerve transmission and learning patterns.
Other research concluded that breastfeeding was associated with significantly higher cognitive development than formula-fed babies. It is well known that breastfed babies have higher amounts of DHA the broken-down derivative of omega-3.
Hyperactive children were found to have lower levels of key fatty acids in their blood when compared to other children. The hyperactive kids were also more likely to report symptoms of omega-3 deficiency such as constant thirst, dry hair and skin, asthma, and ear infections.
Omega-3 and Children
Omega-3 fat is available in several foods including flaxseed oil, cold-water fish, omega-3 eggs, and nuts and seeds. Omega-3 eggs are produced by chickens that have been fed with alfalfa, corn, soybean, and flaxseeds, which all contain this essential fat. In fact, an average-sized omega-3 egg contains approximately 320 mg of omega-3, while a regular egg contains approximately 63 mg. Including these foods in your children’s diet is one way for them to obtain omega-3, however, it is not enough.
Although cold-water fish such as tuna and salmon are wonderful sources of protein, selenium, vitamin D, and omega-3 essential fat, the level of toxicity showing in up our tuna (mercury) and salmon (dioxins and PCBs) is disconcerting. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it is best to switch to wild salmon and limit consumption of farmed salmon to once per month. Children should only consume a maximum of two ounces of tuna per week.
So how do you get enough omega-3 fats into your child’s daily diet and how much omega-3 is enough? Incorporating high-quality fish oils in liquid or capsule form is the best approach for both adult and child. As with eating fish, the safety of consuming fish oils has also come under the microscope. Several studies have proven that the toxicity of fish oils is much lower than fish.
If your child is a picky eater, select flavoured fish oil such as strawberry, butterscotch, or lemon and add it to a morning shake, applesauce, or yogourt. If your child is old enough to swallow pills, purchase an enteric-coated fish oil to ensure optimal absorption and digestion.
Recommended Daily Omega-3 Intake
The following chart from Health Canada contains guidelines on how much fish oil your child needs daily. Depending on your child’s health, your primary healthcare practitioner may suggest more.
0 to 12 months 500 mg
1 year 600 mg
2 to 3 years 700 mg
4 to 6 years 1,000 mg
7 to 9 years 1,200 mg for boys/ 1,000 mg for girls
10 to 12 years 1,400 mg for boys/ 1,200 mg for girls
13 to 15 years 1,500 mg for boys/ 1,200 mg for girls