‘Fat’ can be such an emotive word especially when linked with children. But fat and the right kind of fats are essential to life. It’s difficult to understand what is important for our children and what isn’t when we are faced with messages from the media, food manufacturers and the supplement industry about the benefits of: good oils; fish oils; Omega 3 and essential fats.


Essential fats are called essential as we need them to live and stay healthy. They need to be consumed through the diet as we can’t make them in the body and if we don’t eat them, it is likely we may not have sufficient quantities to carry out important processes that keep us healthy. 

There are two types of fats:
Omega 6 found in poultry, eggs, nuts, these are eaten widely and tend to be sufficient in a child’s diet.
Omega 3 including found in oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, herring), also walnuts, flaxseed and hemp oil - eaten less widely as many children may not like the taste or texture.

Why is it Important to eat Oily fish?

Oily fish contain two specific forms of Omega 3:

EPA - (Eicosapentaenoic acid)
DHA - (Docosahexaenoic acid) - is the fat that is the most abundant in the brain and contributes to normal brain function. It is the principal omega-3 fatty acid in brain gray matter representing about 15% of all fatty acids in the human frontal cortex.

These two fatty acids are used directly within our cell structures. We can make these ourselves, if we eat plant-sourced Omega 3 fats found in walnuts, flaxseed and hemp oil. Eating oily fish however provides a direct source of DHA and EPA and saves your body from doing the work. It is these two forms of Omega 3 that you can often see listed on the back of good quality fish oil supplements.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition has outlined that the majority of the UK population does not consume enough fish, particularly oily fish, and should be encouraged to increase consumption. The NHS guidelines recommend people should eat at least two portions of fish a week.


Guideline Portion Amounts

AGE

ONE PORTION SIZE

18 months to three years

¼ - ¾ small fillet or 1-3 tablespoons

four to six years

½ - 1 small fillet or 2 - 4 tablespoons

seven to eleven years

1 - 1 ½ small fillets or 3 - 5 tablespoons

12 years to adult

140g (5 oz) fresh fish or 1 small can oily.

 

So how do we encourage children to eat oily fish rich in Omega 3?

Encouraging children to eat fish at an early stage is beneficial as well as involving then in making easy dishes. Try the ones here which are great for you to do with your child.

What if your child simply refuses to eat oily fish?

There are other plant based sources of Omega 3 such as: nuts and seeds e.g. walnuts and pumpkin seeds; vegetable oils e.g. rapeseed and linseed; soya and soya products e.g. beans, milk and tofu; and green leafy vegetables.

There are currently no UK recommendations for omega-3 supplements. 

However the following advice may be helpful if you choose to take a supplement:

  • Look for omega 3 oil rather than fish liver oil which may contain Vitamin A and can sometimes contain lower levels of the Omega 3 fats DHA and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid).
  • Check for vitamin A content -The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) advises that if you take supplements containing vitamin A, you should not have more than a total of 1.5mg (1500mcg) a day from food and supplements combined.
  • Do not take supplements containing vitamin A if you are pregnant or planning a baby.
  • Check labels for DHA and EPA content - stick to the daily amount provided by eating one to two portions of fish per week (about 450mg EPA and DHA per daily adult dose). Children 2-18 years 250mg per day of EPA and DHA (European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

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