I was a bit skeptical when I heard that kids from 6 months on should be taking an additional supplement filled with Omega-3 fatty acids. I mean really? I can barely remember to take my supplements and now I have to remember to force some sort of supplement into my kid.
Seems like a lot of work.
Was it even worth it?
Or was this just some fad diet for babies?
So I do what I always do when faced with something that I want to know more about, I lay in bed for hours in the middle of the night thinking about it before I just get up and do some research. Sitting at my computer in my pajamas, here is what I found out.
YES!! Your little one needs Omega-3 just as much as they need calcium to build strong and healthy bones. The difference is that Omega-3 is a good fat that helps develop the brain, eye and nervous system. Studies have shown that children with enough Omega-3 with DHA are better at reading, have a better short and long term memory, fewer behavior problems, less anxiety, less hyperactivity in boys and less aggression in girls. When DHA is not adequate in early childhood there can be emotional and intellectual developmental problems.
The key is that you need to give them a Omega-3 with both DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) together. Through some magical and very complex process, that I will never understand, these two work together to maximize the benefits of the DHA.
How to get Omega-3s with DHA and EPA:
- Fish - feeding your little one fish 2 times a week will be enough to get the recommended amount of Omega-3s with DHA/EPA. Stick to high quality and low-mercury sources of seafood like salmon, trout, halibut, light canned tuna and cod. More info here about kid safe seafood. For babies still on purees, this will be easy as you can puree any fish right into the purees you are already giving them. For toddlers, try making it a fun by making them a special fish taco, homemade fish sticks or fish mixed into pasta.
- Fish Oil Supplements - If your kiddo is not eating fish, I would recommend a good supplement that contains both DHA and EPA. There are several different types of supplements at any natural food store that are geared towards kids - liquid flavored fish oil, gummies or liquid drops for babies. You will need to experiment to see what your little one likes best. We use this product at our house, the little one and myself taking a big spoonful everyday (well almost every day).
- Seaweed - If you are raising your baby as a vegetarian or vegan, it is going to be a little tougher to get the necessary amounts of DHA and EPA for your baby. Seaweed is your only possible source that is not animal based. Look for concentrated supplements from seaweed that supply both DHA and EPA. I could only find this liquid drops product available for kids.
- Plant Based Omega-3 (flax, chia) are not useful because your body cannot efficiently use this kind of Omega-3, which is called ALA (alpha-linoleic acid). It does not contain any DHA and while your body can convert ALA to EPA, it is a slow, difficult, incomplete and complicated process.
How much does your little one need:
I have seen so many different graphs and numbers of what different institutes and medical professional recommend, so I am giving you the low end of the scale. I have seen some that have doubled and even tripled these numbers. My advice, is to start at these numbers and go from there. During a good week, we try to do a blend of supplements and eating fish to maximize the benefits.
- Pregnant and breast feeding moms - from 300-1000 mg per day of combined DHA and EPA. More info here.
- Infants from 6 to 24 months - Aim for 5 mg of DHA per pound per day of body weight
- Kids 2 to 4 - 150 mg per day
- Kids 4 to 6 - 200 mg per day.
- Kids 6 to 10 - 250 mg per day.
- 10 to adult - may take up to 1000 mg per day.