What Every Parent Needs to Know About Children and Omega 3’s
Rachel Blaine, MPH, RD

Typically, people aren’t thrilled by eating things that have the word “fat” in their name, but in the case of omega-3 fatty acids, we have a lot to be excited about.

Imagine that omega-3’s are a family of healthy fats that our bodies cannot make on their own. This means we must eat enough omega-3 rich foods in order to keep our hearts working properly, our genes error-free and to optimize peak brain function. In this omega-3 family, there are 3 “siblings,” whose 3-letter names you may recognize from ads on cereal boxes, orange juices, baby formula, or vitamin supplements. These are:
  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid): The bossy big sister, ALA is found in a variety of commonly eaten foods, like vegetable oils (canola and soybean), walnuts, and flaxseeds. The average American diet tends to be low over-all in omega-3’s with the most omega-3’s from the diet coming from ALA, which is converted in the body into EPA and DHA.
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): The shy and often overlooked twins of the Omega-3 family, EPA and DHA are something of a dynamic duo and are often measured together because their benefits are not well understood apart. These two important fatty acids are found in their pure form primarily in cold-water fish, fish oil supplements, and certain algal extracts and are especially easy for the body to use. EPA and DHA are being used a great deal in research to determine their potential use in a variety of settings for both children and adults.

Omega-3 fatty acids provide great benefits for all children, as they are used to help grow a healthy body, keep the heart strong, and ensure that a growing brain is able to think and process information. Although more research needs to be done before supplement recommendations can be made for all children, exciting studies are currently looking at the therapeutic use of omega 3’s for:
  • Increasing intelligence and neurological development in infants and older children
  • Improving behavior among children with autism and ADHD
  • Managing asthma symptoms among children
  • Decreasing the number of flare-ups among children with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
The consensus among professional agencies like the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Institutes of Health is that fish oil supplements should not be given to children under the age of 18 without supervision by a medical doctor.   However, there are a number of tasty foods rich in omega-3’s that children will love.

The American Heart Association says that kids may safely consume up to 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week. Some omega-3 rich food sources that families can enjoy:
  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Shrimp/Lobster
  • Catfish
  • Pollock
  • Crab
  • Scallops
  • Flounder/Sole
  • Light canned tuna fish

Tips for feeding your child fish or shellfish:
  • Avoid serving high mercury fish (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tile fish), as mercury can be toxic to children.
  • Don’t go overboard with canned light tuna, as it is a bit higher in mercury than other fish. Aim to only have tuna once per week.
  • Variety is best! By varying the types of fish that you eat, you can help reduce your children’s risk of consuming mercury and other toxins.
  • Make eating seafood fun! Try baked fish sticks, crab cakes, seafood tacos, or fish kabobs.


Rachel Blaine, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian and freelance writer who has years of experience running health programs, conducting nutrition research, and promoting public health. She holds a Master of Public Health from UCLA, where she was a Fellow, and is now pursuing her doctorate degree at Harvard University with an emphasis in maternal and child nutrition. She teaches the online course Healthy Moms and Infant Nutrition, which covers nutrition topics from fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding through infant weaning and toddler feeding. Learn about how to deal with picky eaters, motivate new moms to shed the dreaded “baby weight,” and how to navigate all the misleading health information about nutrition during these critical periods of growth and development. You will also get access to several great books and website recommendations, that are useful for RD’s, child care providers, personal trainers, and families. Find out more at www.nutritioned.net/8