Nutrient Guide: Omega 3s

Omega-3 fatty acids have received an increasing amount of attention in recent years, and for good reason: Studies suggest that they are vital to brain health1 and development2 and may positively affect learning and behavior3,7,15. Omega-3 fats, a specific group of essential fatty acids or EFAs, are polyunsaturated fats that are critical to good health3. Fats, like Omega 3 DHA, comprises about 60 percent of the brain and the nerves in the human body. The better the fat in one’s diet, the healthier and better performing a young brain can be. Though there is no recommended daily intake (RDI)* for Omega 3s, experts recommend children’s intake to be between 100mg and 150mg of DHA (three-ounces of salmon provides about 600mg.)

  • Omega 3 acids (DHAEPA and ALA) from animal ant plant sources are essential fatty acids that may play a critical role in a child’s learning ability, cognitive function, and brain development,1,5,13,16 and could improve behavior in children with ADHD.6
  • Omega-3 acids are concentrated in the brain and, along with omega-6 acids, are the main structural components of brain cell membranes and the enzymes that help the membranes transport nutrients through the brain’s cells.
  • Omega-3 acids are not produced by the body and must be acquired through food — fatty fish, walnuts, flax seeds, avocado, hemp seeds, chia seeds, blue-green algae, and nut oils, for instance — that are generally inadequate in most North American diets, especially children7,8.
  • In addition to potential brain development and health benefits, omega 3 EFAs may also enhance immune function and reduce the risk of heart disease, though research is as of yet supportive, not conclusive.9,10,11,14

NOTE: It is always best to obtain omega 3 EFAs from foods, as taking an omega 3 supplement can have some risks. Children who bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder, or take blood-thinning medications should use omega 3 fatty acid supplements cautiously and on the advice of their doctor. High doses of omega 3 fatty acids may increase the risk of bleeding. Taking omega 3 fatty acid supplements may also increase fasting blood sugar levels.

Sources of Omega 3s

  • Perhaps the best source of omega 3 acids is fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon, krill, herring, anchovies, and sardines.
  • The omega 3 acids in these fish comprise two acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
  • A simpler omega 3, called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), can be derived from nuts and plant sources, including linseed/flaxseed oil and leafy green vegetables like kale), and converted by the body into EPA & DHA.
  • Vegetarian diets typically contain limited amounts of DHA and EPA because the body cannot easily convert ALA into DHA and EPA.12
  • Ingestion of large fish such as tuna and salmon should be limited in young children due to the presence of potentially harmful environmental contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. Other industrial pollutants can easily bioaccumulate in the flesh of predatory fish, so it is much better to consume smaller fish such as sardines and anchovies when trying to reach optimum amounts of omega 3s in the diet.

NOTE: Always seek the advice of your pediatrician or nutritionist before making changes to you or your children’s diet or nutrient intake.

* The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) is the value of established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in nutrition labels. It was based initially on the highest 1968 Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for each nutrient, to assure that needs were met for all age groups. To see more recent recommendations, please see the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI). These are the most recent set of dietary recommendations established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, 1997-2001. They replace previous RDAs and may be the basis for eventually updating the RDIs.

References

  1. “Health Benefits of DHA for Infants and Children,” Keeley Drotz, RD, CD, Healthcastle Nutrition Inc. August 2008. http://www.healthcastle.com/children_dha_benefits.shtml
  2. American Heart Association, “Polyunsaturated Fats,” Jan 11, 2014.http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/FatsAndOils/Fats101/Polyunsaturated-Fats_UCM_301461_Article.jsp
  3. DHA/EPA Omega-3 Institute, 2006-2010. http://dhaomega3.org/index.php?category=overview&title=Omega-3-Nutrition-Gap-and-Recommended-Intakes
  4. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/omega-3/HB00087
  5. ScienceDaily, Mar. 23, 2010. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100322211831.htm
  6. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, DiseaseProof.com, “Dr. Fuhrman Discusses DHA for Children,” Dec. 28, 2005.http://www.diseaseproof.com/archives/supplements-dr-fuhrman-discusses-dha-for-children.html

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