Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids are essential for growing kids.
When you consider that the membrane of every new cell produced in the body is constructed in part from Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, you quickly realize their importance in the diet of growing kids.
Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are also known as essential fatty acids. They are ‘essential’ to our diet because our bodies cannot manufacture them out of other substances. Hence, they need to be consumed. Essential fatty acids play a role in many metabolic processes in the human body, including cell development, cardiovascular health, brain development in fetuses and young kids, and much more. They also play a huge role in the prevention of many ailments.
Omega 3 often scarce in diet
Omega 6 is generally abundant in a typical North American diet. It is found in nuts, seeds, wheat, corn and soy. Oils made from safflower, sunflower, and sesame are also loaded with Omega 6 fatty acids.
However, diets are often low in sources of Omega 3. It’s speculated that the imbalance between Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids contributes to the development of many different disease states, from ADHD and type 2 diabetes to heart disease, cancer and so on. So making sure we have enough Omega 3 in our diets is critical at all stages of life.
Omega 3 fatty acids are found in flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and leafy green vegetables. Cold water ocean fish, such as salmon, tuna, halibut, sardines, mackerel and Arctic char, are rich sources of Omega 3.
Brain food for kids
Omega 3 contains two very essential polyunsaturated fats known as EPA and DHA. These fats are especially important for neurological development, cardiovascular health and the maintenance of a healthy nervous system throughout life.
You may have heard your grandparents refer to fish as “brain food”. Well they were absolutely right. DHA is especially important for the development of the fetal brain and continues to be important during early childhood years.
After the age of five, EPA becomes more important. A lack of EPA is associated with trouble focusing, mood fluctuations, behaviour issues, etc. As a general rule, think of DHA as stimulating brain function and EPA as calming brain function. Both are essential for healthy brain metabolism.
EPA is a nutrient that reduces inflammatory processes in the body. Therefore, it is useful for treating or preventing allergies, asthma, eczema, joint and muscle inflammation and so on. DHA becomes significant later in life because it helps prevent memory loss.
Adding Omega 3 to diet
There are many ways to incorporate Omega 3 into a child’s diet. Add some ground flax seed or hemp seeds to breakfast cereal or a smoothie made with berries and yogurt. You can substitute with flax seed oil and hemp oil, but the seeds add fibre, protein and other nutrients to the mix. Serve salads with green leafy vegetables – a source of so many essential nutrients – or use greens as the top layer of sandwiches.
Having fish at least twice a week is another way to ensure kids get enough essential fatty acids. Unfortunately, all fish is contaminated to some degree with heavy metals such as mercury. Tuna is the worst for this as it is such a long lived fish and has years to accumulate such toxins. Farmed fish is often loaded with PCBs – another unwelcome toxin. So your best bets are wild caught salmon, sardines, mackerel and Arctic char.
If your child is a picky eater, hyperactive or has difficulty focusing in school, you might want to consider a fish oil supplement. Up until the age of five, a good quality fish oil supplement that contains a bit more on the DHA side (such as cod liver oil) is a good choice as your child’s brain continues to develop and mature.
After the age of five and especially if hyperactivity, asthma or allergies are a problem, look for a supplement with a little more EPA. The anti-inflammatory effect will help to calm and balance their moods. EPA is an integral part of nutritional protocols for ADHD, autism, mood fluctuations and allergies.
There has been a lot of press recently about the quality of fish oil supplements. Some of the cheaper brands have been found to contain PCBs and/or rancid oils. Check with your local health food store about the quality of their fish oil products. There are many products available today even for picky eaters including chewable berry-flavoured children’s EPA supplements.