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Ask the Expert: The Positive Impact of Omega-3s in Children

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Q1. What is an omega-3 and why do children need it in their daily diet?

Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that delivers health benefits for adults and children alike. The fatty acids help improve our brain health, vision and immune function, so we want to be especially mindful of including omega-3s into a child’s daily diet as they grow and develop.

Q2. Which foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids?

Fish tends to be our best source, like anchovies and salmon, but you can also get it from plant sources such as chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts. The National Institutes of Health lists the following foods as sources rich with omega-3s.

  • Edamame
  • Shrimp
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Trout
  • Sea bass
  • Refried beans
  • Flaxseed, soybean and canola oil
  • Eggs
  • Chicken breasts

Q3. How can I incorporate omega-3s into my child’s diet if they are a picky eater? How often does a child need to eat omega-3s?

For parents, it’s best to approach mealtime with an open mind. While there is a perception that children naturally only like “kid foods” (such as chicken nuggets or hamburgers), more often than not kids are open to trying new foods if their parents present the option positively.

However, if they still don’t enjoy foods with omega-3s, try mixing flaxseed oil into smoothies, soup, oatmeal or cereal. The flavor of flax seed oil is easily diluted while still providing the nutritional value of omega-3s.

The recommended daily amount of omega-3s increases as a child grows.

  • Birth to 12 months: 0.5 grams
  • 1 to 3 years: 0.7 grams
  • 4 to 8 years: 0.9 grams
  • 9 to 13 years: 1.2 grams
  • 14 to 18 years: 1.6 grams

In general, both children and adults should have omega-3s in their diet at least two times a week.

Q4. Should my child take omega-3 supplements?

I do not typically recommend giving omega-3 supplements to children since there are a number of risks involved. If you have any concerns about your child’s diet and are considering providing supplements, please consult with your pediatrician or registered dietitian first.

Laura Gibofsky, MS, RD, CSP, CDN, is a nutritionist at Hospital for Special Surgery.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.