In recent years, omega-3 fatty acids have become something of a nutrition star. But what are they?
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that help feed the brain and keep it healthy. They are part of the process of building new cells — the key to developing the central nervous and cardiovascular systems and helping the body absorb nutrients. Omega-3 fats also are important for eye function.
Additionally, some research has shown omega-3 fats may help manage psychological and behavioral conditions because of their role in neurotransmitter function. Studies in Japanese children have shown fish intake to be inversely related to depressive symptoms. And the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fats have also been studied as a potential treatment for conditions ranging from obesity to asthma to upper respiratory infections.
Keep in mind that some of these studies were small and other studies found conflicting results. Plus, the research may have focused on only one type of omega-3 fatty acid. More research needs to be done before we will know the full implications of omega-3 fats on the body. Always talk with your child's health care provider before giving them any dietary supplements.
3 Types of Omega-3 Fats
The types of omega-3 fats are: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
EPA and DHA are found mainly in certain fish, although certain brands of eggs may be fortified. ALA is found primarily in plant sources including flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts, but also in some fish and meat. Grass-fed animals tend to have a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids and produce milk and eggs with more as well.
Food Before Supplements
Offer a variety of food sources of omega-3 fats before trying supplements. Serve fish in kid-friendly ways, such as baking salmon in teriyaki or honey barbecue sauce. Use canned salmon to make salmon sliders, salmon cakes or baked nuggets. Servings of fish are smaller for children and will depend on their age. It’s also important to choose fish that are lower in mercury, such as the ones listed below. More “Advice about Eating Fish” can be found on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website.
If your kids aren't into fish, try using flaxseed oil. You can add a teaspoon to a smoothie or mix it up with peanut butter for toast and sandwiches. You can also add ground flaxseeds to muffins, or soups and even breadcrumbs before baking casseroles or chicken cutlets. Make pudding using chia seeds and add your kid's favorite fruit for a nutrient-packed breakfast or snack.
The current Recommended Adequate Intakes of omega-3s for kids are:
- 0 to 12 months: 0.5 grams/day
- 1 to 3 years: 0.7 grams/day
- 4 to 8 years: 0.9 grams/day
- 9 to 13 years (boys): 1.2 grams/day
- 9 to 13 years (girls): 1.0 grams/day
- 14 to 18 years (boys): 1.6 grams/day
- 14 to 18 years (girls): 1.1 grams/day
To meet the daily needs of omega-3 fats for kids, look for these food sources:
- Pacific Chub Mackerel
- Canned light tuna
- Freshwater Trout
- Chia seeds
- Soy beans
Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN contributed to this article.