Omega 3 fatty acids are referred to as essential fatty acids as our bodies cannot produce them on our own and yet they form part of the building blocks of health, so that without them, our bodies would face some serious health issues. They play the role of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, of which there are 3 main fatty acids, the first is Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), second being Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and the third being a-linolenic acid (ALA).
You may have heard of different types of omega fatty acids, such as Omega 6 and Omega 9. These fatty acids are found in fish, animal products, and plant oils. Fish oil is the go-to-source of these omega-3 fats as they are the most common. Our bodies mostly depend on our diets for their intake of these essential fatty acids. If the human body had to be without Omega-3 fatty acids, we could expect health risks such as cancer, high cholesterol, asthma, Alzheimer's disease, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), blood clotting, bipolar disorder, depression, dementia, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, impaired vision, slow thinking and reasoning and even heightened blood pressure.
As these fatty acids contribute to the wellbeing of so many systems in the body, that every person should be concerned that they are not deficient in these fatty acids. The development of children and even fetal development may be impacted by the lack of these essential fatty acids. They are found in the supplements specifically formulated for pregnant women, and are common in many multivitamin brands, but is it safe for your children?
Can Children Supplement With Omega-3?
It is suggested that if your kids are not eating fatty fish such as sardines or salmon at least a few times a week, that they take a supplement. Of course, it is always recommended to speak to their pediatrician before starting any dietary supplement. Including essential acid-rich foods into your diet may go a long way, and although salmon is pricey, there are other foods rich in DHA that you and your family may enjoy. Here is a recipe that you can try:
Walnut-crumbed chicken breasts (serves 4):
- 1 1/2 cups of low-fat buttermilk
- 1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 3/4 cup raw walnut pieces
- 1.5 - 2 pounds skinless chicken breasts (boned)
- Salt to taste
In a large bowl add chicken breasts, add salt (approximately 1 teaspoon) to taste, add the buttermilk to coat all of the chicken breasts, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.
While preheating your oven to 400 degrees, add a pinch of salt, paprika, walnuts, black pepper, and breadcrumbs to a food processor and pulse (or use a rolling pin to crush ingredients together in a sealable plastic bag) until the blend is consistent.
Place parchment paper on a cooking tray with parchment paper and a bowl to capture any extra buttermilk dripping off each chicken piece and then dip it into the crumb mixture and lay it on the tray and spray with a cooking oil (preferably olive oil) and bake for up to 45 minutes at 160 degrees.
If you are more of a baker, try these fatty-acid rich rosemary and pear muffins.
Since our bodies depend on Omega 3 and cannot produce these fatty acids naturally, it is important to get Omega 3,6 and 9 from our diets. Without any of these essential fatty acids you and your children run a higher risk of developing cancer, high cholesterol, asthma, Alzheimer's disease, ADHD, depression, dementia, cardiovascular disease, impaired vision, and heightened blood pressure. Foods such as salmon, sardines, tuna and walnuts are very rich in omega 3 however, if you are unable to eat the recommended dose of these types of foods every week, there are many other affordable vegetables and proteins you can enjoy.
What About Vegans And Vegetarians?
Since the majority of essential fatty acids are derived from fish and shellfish, let us not forget our vegan and vegetarian friends or those who are allergic. The body takes ALA (a-linolenic acid), (which is a trusty source of fatty acids for those who want to avoid fish oils), and converts it into more potent DHA and EPA. There are ALA supplements specially formulated for vegans and vegetarians, and recently seaweed-derived DHA supplements, with some including EPA. Although, if you are getting enough ALA, you shouldn't need a supplement with EPA.
There are many plant-based Omega-3 which can be added to your diet such as:
- Brussel sprouts
- Algal oil
- Chia seeds
- Perilla oil
- Mustard greens
Another thing to keep in mind is that it may be important to balance Omega 6 in your diet, although there have been studies which show that it is not imperative and that we should only be concerned that we are getting enough fatty-acids into our diet.
Many people who are vegetarian or allergic to fish and shellfish will still be able to reap the benefits of essential fatty acids by including foods such as kale, spinach, chia seeds, collards and mustard greens to their diets. There are also a variety of ALA and DHA supplements to choose from if you are not getting the recommended daily allowance from your diet.
Should My Family And I Supplement It?
There are some considerations which have to be made before supplementing, but we suggest that you follow these basic guidelines when choosing the right supplement for your family. Knowing if your family is deficient is also key. Children and young adults have different symptoms compared to older adults. While the youth experience symptoms which affect their skin and mood, while the middle-aged experience joint and concentration-related symptoms and the elderly have symptoms which affect their sleeping patterns energy levels.
If you have children, things to look out for are mood swings, dandruff, dry hair, eyes, and skin, as well as small bumps on the tops of arms and on the back of their legs. Concentration-related issues include impaired focus and short attention span. The elderly often also have fatigue and trouble sleeping, joint stiffness and lack of flexibility.
If you or your children are experiencing symptoms such as mood swings, dandruff, dry hair, eyes, and skin, or fatigue, trouble sleeping, joint stiffness and lack of flexibility then you may want to consider supplements. When choosing the correct supplements for you and your family, it's always best to follow basic guidelines set out by the FDA and, of course, speak with a trusted physician.
To Sum It All Up
Omega 3's are definitely considered to play an integral role in nutrition and health. It is impossible to eliminate it from our diets completely, unless we have allergies that include seeds, fish and the selection of vegetables which contain this essential fatty acid. Make sure that your intake is sufficient by either eating more fatty fish or by supplementation. Although there is no perfect dosage, there are suggested minimum daily dosages for people of different ages and stages of life. We have compiled a list below:
- Infants (1-18 months) - 32 mg
- Children (1.5-15 years) - 15 mg
- Adults (15-115 years) - 250 mg EPA and 250 mg DHA
- Pregnant women- 300mg (DHA only)
- Breastfeeding women-300mg (DHA only)