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Omega-3, childhood health and obesity

Posted Nov 04 2009 10:01pm

Omeg a-3  fatty acids ... What IS so important about these things anyway?  Who should take them?  How much should one take? How often?  Is it for kids?  How about babies?  

Well, starting from the beginning...

Omega-3s  are specific fats that are called 'essential' fatty acids.  They are not made by the body so the only way to obtain them is by food and eating.  The three types you may have seen mentioned are ALA, EPA DHA.  In a nutshell, ALA is broken down to EPA and DHA, the latter are the two that the body better processes.  Their benefits are as follows:

  • DHA supports brain and eye development of a growing fetus, baby/infant and child.
  • Helps to bring down high levels of heart-unfriendly  triglycerides  and increase levels of good HDL in the blood.
  • Reduce inflammation in the body and significantly reduce the risk of chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis
  • Other benefits have been noted in attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder in children, eating disorders such as anorexia, depression, osteoporosis, mental health problems, menstrual pain, and many more.


Sources of omega-3s:

  • Fish --  particularly found in salmon, tuna, and halibut.  The American Heart Association recommends eating fish 2 times per week.
  • Fish oils - taking supplements that are either fish-derived or of non-fish sources (Enfamil Expecta or GNC).
  • Nuts --  walnuts
  • Ground flax seeds - added to cereals, salads, just about anything in which you would appreciate a mild nutty flavor
  • Flaxseed oil 

 At which stages in life are they appropriate  and beneficial to take?  All phases...

  • Pregnancy - It is important to obtain these vital fats via mercury-free, nonfish sources (such as  Enfamil Expecta ).  The omega-3s that you eat, as a mom-to-be, while pregnant, will pass onto your baby.
  • Infancy / Nursing vs non nursing - The omega-3s that you eat, as a nursing mom,  will pass onto your baby in the breastmilk.  Breastfeeding while taking supplements such as Expecta or formulas with DHA and/or ALA are important and once your baby begins taking some solid foods, fortified rice, oatmeal and multigrain cereals  and supplemented baby food such as  Happy Baby   are super options.  
  • Childhood - DHA-supplemented cereals and baby foods... for example,  Happy Bellies  organic multigrain or oatmeal cereal.  Eating fish twice a week is another idea and once they are over 2 years of age and the choking hazard has greatly diminished, you can certainly add walnuts and ground flax seed to their diet. 
  • Young Adulthood - They are now becoming more responsible for their own health at this age.  Encourage eating fish twice a week and eating walnuts or ground flax seeds daily.  Or they can take the supplements are as indicated and as needed.
  • Adulthood - In general, the recommendations are eating daily either walnuts or ground flax seeds (approximately 1 teaspoon per day)

The University of Maryland Medical Center provides a great overview of the  benefits and uses of omega-3  fatty acids.

Picture of walnuts by Kimberly Reinick

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