Look for fortified foods to increase your family's Omega 3 intake
Do you know the great benefits of omega-3 DHA for babies and mothers? Here's some tips on how to increase omega-3 DHA intake by combining fish with omega-3 fortified foods. It's easy!
Not everybody likes fish or can eat it - the good news is; there is a growing range of foods fortified with algal DHA, such as eggs, yoghurts, drinking powders and milk.
Omega-3 DHA – Building blocks for you and your baby
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a type of omega-3 fatty acid found throughout the body. Many studies confirm that everyone, from infants to adults, benefit from an adequate supply of DHA in their diets, but it is particularly important during childhood.
Between birth and five years of age, the human brain increases approximately 3.5 times in mass. It is important that children consume adequate amounts of DHA in their diets to ensure cells in the brain, eye, heart and other parts of the nervous system develop and function properly.
Accredited Practising Dietitian, Melanie McGrice says, "There is strong evidence that maternal consumption of omega-3 DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as well as adequate consumption of omega-3 DHA by toddlers, improves eyesight, coordination and attention spans in children. I find it concerning that despite this; recent research shows only 44% of Australian toddlers are meeting their daily requirements of this important nutrient."
Numerous leading Australian health bodies recognise the benefits of omega-3 DHA in children. The Australian Nutrient Reference Values recommend that children (between the ages of 1-13 years) consume 40-70mg per day of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (1), while the National Heart Foundation recommends all Australians, including children, should consume 500mg per day (2).
DHA for pregnancy and breastfeeding
Melanie says, "A healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding is important for both mother and baby. Women are advised to ensure they consume adequate levels of a number of important nutrients including folate (folic acid), vitamin D and iodine. In addition to these, omega-3 DHA is essential for visual and mental development of the foetus and newborn infant."
Omega-3 DHA is found naturally in breast milk and breastfeeding for at least the first six months is recommended for providing the best infant developmental outcomes (3). DHA supplementation during breastfeeding has been linked to mental development advantages in children including psychomotor development (such as eye-hand coordination) (4), improved attention skills (5) and improved ability to adjust to new surroundings (6).
DHA for infancy and beyond
It is not just in the early stages of development that the benefits of omega-3 DHA are apparent. Studies consistently show that higher levels of omega-3 DHA consumption are associated with higher scores on tests of eyesight and brain development in young children.
According to Melanie, "One study published in 2008 found that toddlers who consumed an additional 400mg of DHA daily for four months attained higher scores on the Peabody Vocabulary Test - a test which assesses vocabulary, comprehension and readiness to start school. Another study published in 2007 found that toddlers who received adequate omega-3 DHA during infancy had better eyesight and IQ scores than those who did not."
Making sure your family gets enough DHA
Omega-3 DHA is derived from algae, which is why fish (who consume algae) provide a rich source of this important nutrient. "Atlantic and Australian salmon, Blue-eye Trevella and Blue Mackerel, sardines, some varieties of canned tuna and oysters and mussels are particularly good sources of omega-3 DHA," says Melanie.
However, not everybody likes fish or can eat it and many babies and toddlers are fussy eaters, so getting them to eat enough fish, or any at all, can be a challenge.
The good news is; there is a growing range of foods fortified with algal DHA, such as eggs, yoghurts, drinking powders and milk which offer a great alternative source of omega-3 DHA for young children.
Here are some simple omega-3 DHA rich meal ideas from Accredited Practising Dietitian, Melanie McGrice to make sure you and your baby or toddler are getting enough omega-3 DHA.
Mum Two omega-3 DHA fortified eggs on wholegrain toast
Baby/Toddler/Child Wheat biscuits with omega-3 DHA fortified milk
Mum Smoked salmon and salad bagel
Baby/Toddler/Child Pureed fruit or a healthy sandwich plus strawberries and omega-3 DHA fortified yoghurt
Mum/Baby/Toddler Glass of milk with omega-3 fortified drinking powder
Toddler/Child Omega 3 DHA fortified drinking yoghurt
Mum Homemade quiche made with omega-3 DHA fortified eggs served with side salad
Baby/Toddler/Child Can of tuna mixed with mashed vegetables
Note: Current recommendations are that babies are introduced solid foods gradually from the age of 6 months. Speak to your maternal child health nurse or doctor for advice before introducing solid foods to your child.
- NHMRC. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Commonwealth of Australia, 2006.
- National Heart Foundation. Heart Foundation position statement on fish, fish oils, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cardiovascular health, 2008.
- Gibson, R. Makrides, M. Colyer, G. The essential role of fats throughout the lifecycle – Summary and recommendations. MJA, 2002. 176 (11 Suppl):S107-S109.
- Jensen, C.L. et al. Effects of maternal docosahexaenoic acid intake on visual function and neurodevelopment in breast-fed term infants. Am J Clin Nutr, 2005. 82:125-132.
- Jensen, C.L. et al. Effect of maternal DHA supplementation on neuropsychological and visual status of former breast-fed infants at five years of age (abstr). Paediatric Research, 2004. 49. 49:181A.
- Hart, S.L. et al. Brief report: Newborn behaviour differs with docosahexaenoic acid levels in breast milk. J Pediatr Psychol, 2005. 31:221-6.
Life'sDHA™ is a vegetarian source of omega-3 DHA produced by Martek Biosciences Corporation. Life'sDHA™ is derived from marine algae – it contains no ocean-borne contaminants potentially found in fish oils and fish (including methyl mercury) and is free of the allergens associated with fish proteins. Life'sDHA™ is suitable for vegetarians and is both Kosher and Halal.