The word ‘essential’ in nutrition means a nutrient that our body needs but does not make itself. The two most commonly used examples are essential amino acids (referring to the building blocks of protein) and essential fatty acids or EFA’s for short. This short blog post is simply to explain why omega 3’s are essential, what they’re essential for and where we (and our children) can get them from.

There’s more and more evidence of the need for omega 3 fatty acids. Research shows how important they are in brain development. That’s especially important when baby is developing in the womb but also when a baby becomes a child and then a young adult. Omega 3’s are worth consuming for a lifetime though because they have also been linked to reducing the chances or postponing the onset of dementia.

We can find omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, kippers, anchovies, herring, salmon, trout and also fresh tuna. These would ideally be included in your children’s diet twice a week. As a parent I know how difficult that can be so you can also look to supplement omega 3’s if you feel your children may be lacking.

If your child is lacking in omega 3’s they may have:

  • Rough or dry ‘bumpy’ skin
  • Dry, dull or ‘lifeless’ brittle hair and dandruff
  • Soft, peeling or brittle nails
  • Excessive thirst, frequent urination
  • Sleep problems (especially difficulties in settling at night and waking in the morning)
  • Attention problems (distractibility, poor concentration and difficulties in working memory)
  • Emotional sensitivity (such as depression, excessive mood swings or undue anxiety)

Supplementing omega 3’s means looking for quality. You need to ensure:

  • the oils are as pure as can be
  • they’re stored in a dark container
  • they do not contain additives
  • they have not gone off (they will smell distinctly fishy if they have)

I highly recommend the Nordic Naturals brand of EFA’s. They do great-tasting supplements for children.

You can also find omega 3’s in some vegetarian sources too.  In this form the body must convert alpha linolenic acid to EPA and DHA. It basically means another step in the process. That doesn’t mean it is not worth enjoying these foods though:

  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia Seeds
  • Walnut
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Seaweed

If your child is only having vegetarian sources of omega 3’s then make sure they also have sufficient B vitamins, Vitamin C, Magnesium and Zinc in their diet as these speed up the conversion to EPA and DHA. This could be achieved using a vegetarian multivitamin.

Omega 3’s are an essential nutrient. The more we learn about them the more essential they seem to be! I would recommend ensuring your children know where omega 3’s can be obtained and find delicious and acceptable ways of including foods in their diet or if not then supplementing.