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Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The Skinny on the Good Fat

Celebrities and health experts alike have endorsed omega-3 supplements for kids. But do kids really need the supplements?

By Christina Elston

Health NOtesThe press is full of news about fat: trans fat, saturated fat, fat that starts in our food and ends up as extra pounds on our children’s bodies. But lately, experts have been singing the praises of one particular type of fat – omega-3 fatty acids. Celebrities and health experts alike have endorsed omega-3 supplements for kids. But do kids really need the supplements?


Linda Heller, R.D., clinical nutrition manager at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, says to check with your doctor first. “Children are not small adults,” she says, advising parents to talk to their pediatrician before giving kids any kind of dietary supplement.

Omega-3s are a polyunsaturated fat, which means they’re liquid at room temperature. (Saturated fats like butter are solid.) In kids, this kind of fat is essential for brain development and function, and for normal growth. Since omega-3s can’t be manufactured by the body, we need to get them from the foods we eat.



Health experts have not yet established a recommended daily allowance of omega-3s, but most kids aren’t at risk of essential fatty acid deficiency, which can cause growth retardation, skin lesions, reproductive failure, fatty liver, impaired vision and reduced learning. Just a teaspoon of fat (5-6 grams) per day will stave it off. That’s about 3 percent of total daily calories, and most of us get 35 percent to 40 percent of our calories from fat, Heller says.


If you can get your kids to eat it, fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna and herring are rich in omega-3s. However, pregnant and nursing moms and young children need to limit their eating of fish to types without a high mercury content (see the EPA's What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish for specifics). Omega-3s are also found in flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and walnut oil. And just a little dab will do it.


Christina Elston is a health writer for Dominion Parenting Media and Parenthood.com.


Posted September  2008


 




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