Did you know that omega-3s are vital unsaturated fatty acids needed by our bodies to work efficiently and perform functions such as building cell membranes in the brain, blood clot control and good eye health? The most important benefit is that they reduce the body’s inflammatory processes and so make the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease easier. The dietary sources of omega-3s fall into two main food categories: animal-based and plant-based. Oily fish is the most well-known source, but they are also found in plant and nut oils, walnuts, flaxseed, algae oils, supplements, and fortified foods such as milk and yoghurt.
What researchers say
A study led by psychologist Professor Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania, who specialises in neurocriminology, found that omega-3 fatty acids improved children’s behaviour. The researchers gave a group of children a daily drink rich in omega-3 fatty acids for six months. A further six months after the study, the researchers found that in addition to improving the children’s behaviour, the omega-3 fatty acid-rich diet had also improved their social skills and made their parents happier.
Other studies have shown that children born to mothers who took omega-3 supplements during pregnancy and the first months of breastfeeding scored higher in cognitive tests at four years old than those whose mothers did not take supplements. However, diet experts advise parents that omega-3 fatty acids do not guarantee smarter children, and a study conducted by the South Australian Health and Medical Research and the University of Adelaide in Australia followed the cognitive development of 600 children from the foetal stage until they were four years old. The results suggested that pregnant women with a diet rich in omega-3 fats did not necessarily give birth to smarter children. Research done by scientists at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg has found that some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be helped by omega-3 and omega-6 supplements.
Omega-3 benefits for babies
Here are some of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for babies:
- They improve the development of the nervous system and immune system.
- May prevent the development of emotional, learning, and immune system disorders.
- Contain a powerhouse of nutrients to ensure that a baby will develop properly and reach his highest potential.
- The nutrients found in omega-3 fatty acids help to protect babies from brain injuries, pervasive developmental delay and, possibly, ADHD.
- Sufficient levels optimise brain growth in babies, especially during the third trimester.
- Reduce the risk of preeclampsia (pregnancy-related high blood pressure) that can be linked to an omega-3 deficiency.
- May prevent premature delivery.
- Important for visual and neurological development.
Good to know: Experts continue to advise pregnant women to include omega-3s in their diets. If children refuse to eat fish, parents should make sure they eat plenty of fortified foods and take children’s omega-3 supplements in moderation.