Have you ever wondered why omega 3s are so important for kids’ health?
Many people think of omega 3s as a supplement for older people because of the benefits for joint health. But omega 3s have specific health benefits for your child’s growing body.
Watch the video or keep reading below to learn more about the benefits of omega 3s for kids.
What are omega 3s?
Omega-3s are a type of essential fatty acid. Essential fatty acids are ones that our bodies need to function, but can’t be produced by the body.
There are two main omega-3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA. Both are important, but they do play different roles within the body. You will find EPA and DHA in both dietary and supplement sources of omega 3s. However, the ratio can differ.
Why are omega 3s so important for kids?
Omega 3s are such an important nutrient for kids as they grow and develop. They play multiple roles in a healthy body, including:
- Brain development, structure and function
- Nervous system
- Eye health
- Skin health
- Reducing inflammation
- Healthy cell membranes
Omega 3s during pregnancy and infancy
Good omega 3 levels are just as important for a pregnant mum as it is for kids. If mum is deficient through pregnancy and breastfeeding, it’s believed to have long-term consequences for both mum and bub.
During pregnancy, there is a higher requirement for omega 3s. This is because even in utero, they are being used to develop the brain. The 2nd and 3rd trimesters are key stages that require omega 3s.
Bub will take what it needs throughout pregnancy, so mum can often end up depleted. Low omega 3s have been linked to post-natal depression and mood disorders in young mothers.
If the bub is breast-fed, breast milk is an important source of omega 3s, especially DHA. But mum needs good levels to produce milk that is rich in DHA. In Australia, breast milk is lower in essential fatty acids than is ideal for baby’s health.
For bubs on formula, most formula brands now have added DHA. But the problem is that in powdered form, DHA is easily oxidised. If your baby is formula-fed, it’s worth working with a practitioner to help boost their omega 3 intake.
EPA and DHA play very different roles within the brain. EPA is important for neuron signalling and synapses, so is involved more in function. DHA has more of a role in the development and structure of the brain, which is why it’s the most important omega 3 for kids.
Sufficient DHA is needed for:
- Cognitive function
- Release of brain chemicals
- Modulation of the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain
Inflammation is a broad term. Simply put, it’s like little fires in the body. The more fires that are burning, the more damage they can cause.
Inflammation plays a significant role in most chronic and lifestyle conditions. But if inflammation is kept on the low side, it can reduce the risk of many of these chronic diseases. This includes immune-mediated conditions such as eczema, allergies and asthma. When you dampen down the inflammation, it can often calm the symptoms.
There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to inflammation. But omega 3s can help to modulate, or balance out, inflammation.
Omega 3: Omega 6 ratio
Another essential fatty acid is omega 6. Omega 3 and omega 6 need to be in balance to modulate inflammation. But unfortunately, the ratio between the two is completely skewed in the modern diet.
Ideally, we want a 1:1 ratio between omega 3 and omega 6. But it’s closer to 1:20 in the average Australian diet. As omega 6 is pro-inflammatory, this can be a big problem.
When you’re increasing omega 3s in your kid’s diet, you also want to reduce omega 6.
The easiest way to do this is by avoiding processed vegetable and seed oils whenever possible. Cut out vegetable, canola, sunflower, safflower, corn and soy oils. These are commonly found in processed foods.
Omega 3s can be beneficial for chronic conditions, especially for kids. As omega 3s can support learning, concentration and mental health, they can help when it comes to conditions such as depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia.
Boosting omega 3s via the diet
When it comes to omega 3s for kids, diet is always the first step. The best dietary source by far is fish and seafood. Kids need 2-4 serves per week to get adequate levels of omega 3s.
This can be tricky to implement. Fish is expensive, and many parents are concerned about issues such as mercury. But there are a few practical tips that can help you choose a good option.
Wild-caught is a better option nutrition-wise, but it’s not the best for the environment. So my top tip is to choose fish that are small and lower on the food chain. These fish are better for the environment and are lower in mercury.
The best fish and seafood options can vary depending on where you live. But some good options include:
- Sardines – mix little bits through pasta, blend into dips, or add a few pieces to pizza
- Coorong mullet
- Squid or calamari – cook at home so they aren’t deep-fried in inflammatory oils!
- Tinned salmon – wild-caught is best. Try making it into fish cakes, or mix with avo and mayonnaise for lunch
For a kid-friendly fish dish, make sure you check out our fish taco recipe.
What about nuts and seeds?
Nuts and seeds do contain omega 3 fatty acids. But the form that they contain is ALA, which needs to be converted before it can be used in the body.
This conversion can be very inefficient and uses up nutrients in the process. So you’re unlikely to meet the omega 3 demands of your child with only nuts and seeds.
If you do want to add in some omega 3s using nuts and seeds, the best options are walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds.
If you are looking to get a good amount of omega 3s on a vegetarian or vegan diet, there are algae-based omega 3 oils available.
When are supplements useful to boost omega 3s?
Supplements can be good to have as a back-up option for families that do hit their 2-4 serves of fish per week. They can bridge the gap for kids who are fussier or who don’t eat fish.
Omega 3 supplements are also useful for kids with chronic conditions. We will often recommend a supplement for children with ADHD, autism, eczema, asthma and allergies. This ensures they are getting enough to dampen down any inflammation and support the brain and nervous system.
There are so many fish oils available these days. What is most important is making sure that it is high-strength and pure.
The cheaper options are generally lower in purity and less concentrated. On the other hand, practitioner-only brands have much higher standards for purity and offer highly concentrated formulas.
One brand we often recommend to clients is Metagenics. Their fish oil has 4.6g of omega 3s per teaspoon. This includes 826mg of EPA and 550mg of DHA.
To compare, Nature’s Way Kids Smart Burstlets contain 500mg of fish oil. This includes 28mg of EPA and 133mg of DHA.
Metagenics have incredibly high purity standards. The Australian standards for mercury are less than 0.5mg/kg. Metagenics products contain less than 0.005mg/kg. Similarly, the Australian standard for PCBs is below 0.5mg/kg, whereas Metagenics is below 0.09mg/kg.
This is particularly important for kids with ADHD and autism. These kids often have detoxification issues, so they struggle to detoxify heavy metals and other contaminants.
Finally, you want to look at any extras or flavours included. For example, Nature’s Way uses sucralose which is an artificial sweetener. Whenever possible, opt for a brand that uses a natural sweetener such as stevia.
How to get your kids to take an omega-3 supplement
What if your child is still not willing to take fish oil? Here are some tips:
- Take it straight off the spoon and have a snack right afterwards to cut through the texture
- Add to a salad dressing
- Mix in with tinned fish
- If it has a sweet flavour, mix it into bliss balls
- For younger kids, syringe it straight to the back of the throat
Considering a supplement for your child? Want access to the highest-quality omega 3 for kids?
Book an express consult with one of our naturopaths. You can access practitioner-only brands and get professional advice about foods and supplements that suit your child’s specific needs. Click here to book your appointment.