Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that plays a critical role in the body for both growth and development. Omega-3 is obtained exclusively from the diet and cannot be produced by the body. Previously, we examined the role that omega-6 and omega-3 ratio imbalances play in adults. Studies show that the current omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is highly unfavorable at 16:1 when it should be much closer to 1:1 (1). One thing that remains unclear is the ratio levels of these omegas in children. Children follow similar dietary patterns to adults present in the household, as the adults are primarily responsible for making food decisions. Therefore, if adults have highly imbalanced ratios from dietary choices, children are more susceptible to having imbalanced ratios as well.
Omega-3 is arguably more important in children than adults. In adults, omega-3 plays a crucial role in secreting anti-inflammatory signals and helps with wound healing. This is true for children as well, but omega-3 in children also plays a critical role in enhanced brain development and function. It has also been linked to better quality of sleep in children and a potential reduction in asthma prevalence (2, 3). A variety of studies have found that an increased intake in dietary omega-3 leads to improved cognition, memory performance, longer sleep at night with fewer disturbances, and a reduction in asthma due to indoor air pollution. These are just a few of the benefits from consuming a diet rich with omega-3 fatty acids.
Children can often be picky eaters, and it can be challenging at the best of times to convince them to try something new or unfamiliar. Processed foods like chips and crackers have become commonplace as snacks for children as they are individually packaged and incredibly convenient for families with busy lifestyles. One of the biggest draws of children to these types of snacks is they are consistent every time. These snacks are designed to be the same shape, size, and taste the same with each bite. Yet, these types of processed foods are often high in omega-6’s and further contribute to dietary ratio imbalances. While often challenging, the best things for both children and adults to consume are whole and natural foods. Check out our recipe page for some ideas on kid friendly snacks that are high in omega-3’s such as our flax butter banana toast or flax butter and strawberry parfait.
Overall, omega-3’s are important in both children and adults, yet for children the benefits seem to extend much further since they are still in a growth and development phase. These omega-3’s in children help with enhanced brain development and could even lead to a reduction in sleep disturbances and asthma prevalence. One of the best ways to encourage healthy eating in children is to lead by example within the household. By modifying dietary patterns to promote a higher intake of omega-3, you and your children will experience a significant dietary benefit.