Omega-3s: Good Fats for Kids

Find out more about these essential fats and how to make sure your kid's getting enough.

Everyone's buzzing about omega-3s -- the polyunsaturated fats found naturally in fish -- and manufacturers are increasingly adding them to foods and drinks like yogurt and orange juice. Researchers continue to find that these fats, DHA and ARA, may have major health benefits for children. For example, one recent study found that eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help protect high-risk kids from developing type 1 diabetes.

Babies get omega-3s naturally from breast milk, but those who are formula-fed can get their supply too. Most major brands of formula now contain added DHA and ARA -- a good move, since it makes today's formulas even more similar to breast milk, says Parents advisor Ari Brown, MD. Companies like Gerber and Plum Organics are also offering baby cereal and fruit and veggie purees containing DHA.

Fish is by far the richest natural source of omega-3 fatty acids, but with all the worries about mercury contamination, kids are eating less fish than ever. However, giving your child up to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish a week is still considered a safe -- and healthy -- move. Salmon, shrimp, canned light (not white) tuna, and pollock all contain omega-3s, and have the lowest levels of mercury. (The DHA added to food is made from algae or purified fish oil.)

Help your older baby or toddler learn to like fish by starting with mild-tasting varieties like cod and tilapia. You can puree a mild fish with a higher omega-3 variety like salmon for babies (mix with steamed carrots and grated cheese), make fish cakes, or try this simple recipe for kid-friendly fish, suggests Annabel Karmel, author of SuperFoods for Babies and Children. Dip fish in seasoned flour, beaten egg, and crushed cornflakes, then lightly saute in olive or canola oil.

Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the March 2008 issue of Parents magazine.

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