The Fish Facts: Omega-3s Rule
Not all fats are the same. Some, like omega-3 fatty acids, are actually good for you, promoting heart health in adults and eye and brain development in children. In particular, studies have shown that some of these fatty acids found in fish oils can reduce the pain associated with menstrual cramps and, for pregnant women, the risks of premature delivery and low infant birth weight. For children, studies show encouraging results for the use of fish oil as a complement to medical treatment for asthma, and as a promoter of cognitive and motor development.
These oils are especially important during pregnancy, as the fetus’ rapid brain growth demands a constant supply of omega-3s from the mother’s stores. If the mother doesn’t consume enough of these fatty acids during pregnancy or nursing, her own reserves can be depleted. Children also have a need for the fatty acids in the first years of life, when the brain and nervous system undergoes rapid development.
So it’s a good bet that oily fish such as salmon and light canned tuna, which are among the best sources of these fatty acids, should be a regular part of the diets of both moms and growing kids. Unfortunately, recent worries about contaminants such as mercury have led many families to reduce fish consumption, or avoid it altogether.
The good news is that fish can still be a healthy part of the diet. Limit consumption to two servings a week, just to be on the safe side. Children and pregnant or lactating women should avoid swordfish, tilefish, shark (including the fins) and king mackerel.
Fish oil supplements from reputable manufacturers can also provide a safe source of EPA and DHA. For vegetarians, flaxseed oil and EPA extracted from marine algae are also options. To maximize flaxseed oil’s potential, reduce the amount of other vegetable oils in the diet and make sure your zinc levels are adequate, either through a multivitamin supplement or through zinc-rich food sources such as wheatgerm or sunflower seeds.
Got a question? Singaporean Olivia Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org), who has a MSc in nutrition, provides private nutrition counseling.