You have no doubt heard about the amazing benefits of omega-3 fats. And you were probably even told to eat omega-3-rich foods during pregnancy, or take a prenatal supplement with added DHA (that’s a type of omega-3). But did you know that babies, toddlers and kids should still be consuming omega-3’s from either food or a supplement in order to continue receiving the benefits this fatty acid has to offer? It’s true! Omega-3 fats are essential for proper health, and kids (and adults too) are not consuming enough.
What is Omega-3?
Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 is actually an umbrella term for a few fatty acids:
- DHA: Docosahexaenoic acid
- EPA: Eicosapentaenoic acid
- ALA: Alpha linolenic acid
DHA and EPA:
The DHA and EPA forms of omega-3’s are by far the most beneficial—especially when it comes to brain and eye health in kids--and naturally occurs in oily fish such as salmon, tuna and trout. Oily fish are the gold standard for consumption–it’s by far the best way to ensure that you’re getting enough DHA!
The ALA form of omega-3 can be found in plant-based foods such as chia, walnuts, hemp, flax, canola and soy. Unfortunately, the fish and plant-based forms of omega-3 are not created equal. Although plant-based ALA does partially convert to DHA and EPA in the body, the conversion to physiologically effective levels is extremely low, therefore ALA doesn’t offer the same benefits as its fish-based counterpart. There is good news for vegans and vegetarians though--small amounts of omega-3 are found in a variety of enriched foods such as omega-3 enriched eggs! Additionally, DHA and EPA can be found in foods or supplements made with algal oil. This is also great for individuals who have an allergy to fish. Algae found in the ocean are high in omega-3 fats as fish eat algae and therefore contain omega-3!
Why it’s so important:
So, why should your babies and kids consume omega-3 fats? Studies show that omega-3 fats (specifically DHA and EPA) have beneficial effects on brain, nerve and eye development in babies, toddlers and kids. If you already knew this, you may also know that omega-3 fats can also help boost our kids’ immune systems by increasing the activity of white blood cells that eat up harmful bacteria! We all know how important immunity is for our little ones. Omega-3’s can also decrease inflammation, which may in turn protect our kids’ lungs from infection and colds.
How Much Should Our Kids Be Getting?
Currently there are no concrete guidelines on how much omega-3 fats babies, toddlers and kids need. However, experts suggest that babies and toddlers six to 24 months should be consuming 10-12 mg of DHA per kilogram of body weight. This means if you toddler is 20 pounds, they should be getting approximately 135-160 mg of DHA per day. For toddlers 3-4 years of age the recommendation is 100-150 mg of DHA + EPA per day, and for toddlers 4-6 the recommendation is 150-200 mg of DHA + EPA per day.
I know – this seems a bit confusing and overwhelming to most of us. The best way to ensure that your child is receiving enough omega-3’s is to offer oily fish (salmon, trout or low mercury tuna like skipjack, light flaked, or yellowfin) at least twice a week. If your child doesn’t eat fish, it may be beneficial for them to consume an age-appropriate omega-3 supplement that is government regulated – this means there will be a Natural Product Number (NPN#) on the label.