Omega-3 fatty acids are a crucial component of a healthy diet, especially for children. It plays a key role in their development from the foetus stage to their brain function, heart health and immunity. The human body cannot produce its own and needs to be obtained through food.
There are three main types of a fatty acids:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexanenoic acid (DHA)
ALA is present in a lot of foods like vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds however they are not active in the body until the body converts it into active forms of DHA and EPA. But it can only do this in small amounts. EPA and DHA occur naturally in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna. They are widely available in supplements as well. The most common are fish oil, krill oil and algae oil. While crucial for development, Omega-3 offers other benefits to children. There have been studies that show daily Omega-3 improved memory, attention, learning, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity in children. These symptoms are linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The pairing of fish
oil supplements and dietary modifications have been found to be a promising technique for reducing ADHD symptoms in children. Omega-3 also promotes better sleep in children. There have been studies that connect low blood levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and the high risk of sleep problems. Research on Omega-3 also indicated that it may improve brain functionality and mood.
DHA and EPA are important for visual development in childhood and beyond. The highest concentration of DHA in the body can be found in the retina. Lack of DHA has been shown to harm visual health.
Having a child take a supplement is not always easy. Omega-3 can be found in many foods that can be added into their diet. It is widely known that they can be found in fish, walnuts, and flaxseed. It is less known that they can also be found in squid, scallops, mussels, microalgae, chia seeds and leafy green vegetables. Children are sometimes put off by fish so using flaxseed oil and mixing it into a smoothie or into their peanut butter spread is a creative way of giving them their fatty acids through their food.
It can be hard for those who are vegetarian or vegan to obtain their essential fatty acid intake from their food. While ALA is present in plants and the body can convert it to EPA and DHA, it can only do so in small amounts. There are more alternatives available that derive their Omega-3 from microalgae which suits the parameters of a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Some adult Omega-3 supplements can be taken by children of a certain age. Always read the label if you wish to utilise your own supplements and give them to your children. For young children it is best to consult a health professional. They will be able to advise you if a supplement is suitable and the correct dosage if they are unable to meet their requirements through their diet.