Omega-3 is the building blocks for cells. Every single cell in our body requires Omega-3 to synthesize and function correctly. Every organ in our body needs these fatty acids as an energy source to carry out their role.
Omega-3 is key to the development of the cardiovascular and central nervous system. It also aids in the absorption of other nutrients.
Back in the days of the mid-upper Palaeolithic period, the intake of aquatic foods had increased, marking a major turning point for human evolution. Some experts theorize that the increase of consumption of aquatic life with its high amounts of Omega-3 may have been the crucial element for human development.
Therefore, it is extrapolated, that with the increase of Omega-6 in the diet, and the decrease of Omega-3, that is why we are seeing higher rates of allergies, behavioural and mental conditions, immune problems, and developmental delays.
Due to the composition of cell membranes and receptors, Omega-3 is essential for the binding of receptors to cells for our genetic function. They are the starting point for hormone release, blood clotting, relaxation and contraction of artery walls, and inflammation.
We need to consume these essential fatty acids, as the body does not produce enough of them.
There are three main types of Fatty Acids – EPA – eicosapentaenoic acid, DHA – docosahexaenoic acid, and ALA – alpha-linoleic acid.
EPA and DHA are predominately found in fish and algae. Whereas, higher levels of ALA are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and grass-fed animals. EPA’s main role is to reduce inflammation, DHA’s main role is for brain development, and ALA is for energy conversion.
Unfortunately, in this day-in-age of polluted marine life, it is becoming increasingly difficult to source high amounts of EPA and DHA without being exposed to other possible contaminants.
Although the body can convert small amounts of ALA into EPA and DHA, the debate rages if that is enough. And due to this fact, we may need to consume even higher levels of fatty acids to ensure adequate amounts are converted.
The problem goes even further with many western diets now containing too much Omega-6.
Omega-6 is a necessary fatty acid – in small amounts. This fatty acid causes the production of a hormone that results in an inflammatory response in order to trigger off the immune system to start the healing process for infection. Omega-3 jumps in to balance out those effects, so there is not too much inflammation present in the blood.
However, in our good ole western diet, this balancing effect does not always occur due to the low levels of Omega-3; potentially resulting in the increase of allergies, and inflammatory conditions.
Omega-6 is not the sole cause of the higher levels of inflammation. It can be said that back in the days of our parents, foods had less additives. Now in our day-in-age, animals and other foods contain preservatives, colourings, and flavourings that interfere with the body’s natural processes.
With all this in mind, how do we get enough DHA and EPA in for children?
It is recommended to start on a dose of around 0.5 grams for 0–12-month-old infants. As they get older, you can slightly increase the dose by around 0.2 grams every few years. Research does indicate that higher doses are required in order to see more benefits. For a 0–12-month child that will be at least 500 milligrams.
The recommended daily intake for children ages 1-3 is 0.7g, 4-8 around 0.9, 9-13: 1-1.2g daily.
There is still research taking place about how much is too much.
What research certainly indicates is that having higher amounts of Omega-3 is always a good thing, even if you don’t see immediate benefits. Remember, Omega-3 is required for basic body functions. Instead of your child just surviving, he or she will thrive with more Omega-3 in their diet.
Free-range Omega-3 enriched eggs has around 125mg of Omega-3, specifically DHA and EPA within the yoke. One ounce of salmon has around 400mg of Omega-3. One cup of salmon is 7.9 ounces, so it doesn’t take much salmon to get high levels of Omega-3.
Unfortunately, eating salmon and seafood every day isn’t on the top of a child’s best food list.
The plant sources may not contain as much DHA and EPA as fish; however, they still contain many benefits. Chia seeds, walnuts, Omega-3 rich milk, hemp seeds, flaxseed oil, soybeans and even mayonnaise, contain good levels of ALA.
When looking at getting enough Omega-3 in the diet, it is better to first get it through your food, rather than through supplementation. However, it can be difficult to get your children to eat the foods high in DHA and EPA, so supplementation may be necessary.
If choosing to supplement, ensure the supplement has equal amounts of DHA and EPA.
What should I take from all of this?
One thing all experts seem to agree upon, that everyone – children, adults and animals all require more Omega-3 in their diet, and less Omega-6 for overall health and potential prevention or reduction of diseases and inflammatory-related conditions.
The enzymatic conversion process of ALA to EPA has a higher converted rate when the child is already on a healthy diet – focusing on reducing some Omega-6 consumption, reducing trans and saturated fat, consume a good amount of protein, and ensure good amounts of B3 (Niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), magnesium, and zinc to increase the enzymatic activity required.
In a healthy diet, with good levels of ALA, it appears that including ALA foods like hemp seeds, ground flaxseeds and oil, and chia seeds daily should provide enough fatty acids in total that the child requires.
Throw in some yummy fish meals like fish tacos, salmon fritters, homemade fish and chips, or even sushi to really boss it!
What have you Heard about the Best Sources of Omega-3?