Omega-3 fatty acids are vital nutrients for brain function. They help to improve hyperactivity symptoms and reduce the risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and autoimmune diseases.
Our bodies can’t make omega-3 fatty acids
So naturally, they have to be consumed in foods or supplements. The most important forms of omega-3 fatty acids for brain health are DHA and EPA, but the ALA form can also be helpful as our body converts some ALA into DHA and EPA.
Omega 3’s are CRITICAL for children with these injuries and behavioral issues
I’m a big fan of omega-3 fatty acids to support brain health and function for everyone, but especially people with ADHD or other neurodevelopmental issues. They are also critical for children with concussion or brain injury issues. Research has clearly shown that many children and teens with ADHD are either deficient in omega-3 fatty acids or require more than other people. Numerous studies have demonstrated that increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake improves attention, learning, impulsivity, and hyperactivity symptoms. I often recommend omega-3 fatty acid supplements in my practice, but it’s important to know that you can increase omega-3 levels from food as well.
7 foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acid
Salmon – There are so many ways to serve salmon, and many kids will eat it plain without doing anything fancy to it. Salmon can be baked, grilled, pan-fried with or without spices or other flavors. You can eat it as a main dish, with crackers, or on a salad. While some kids balk at the idea of eating fish, I’ve found that most enjoy (or at least tolerate) salmon once they’ve tried it a few times. Because salmon is one of the best sources of EPA and DHA, eating it just twice a week is an excellent way to get the DHA and EPA forms of omega-3 fatty acids we need.
Sardines – If you’re like me, the idea of eating sardines plain is a hard sell! I occasionally meet a child who eats them right out of the can, but more often than not we need to get creative to incorporate sardines into foods. Adding them to a Caesar salad is an easy strategy, as the flavors work well together. You can also make tuna salad with sardines instead of tuna. If your kids like chicken fingers, try fried sardine fingers! Coat the sardines in egg and flour and fry them up in oil on the stove (I recommend olive or coconut oil for additional health benefits). If you want more ideas on incorporating sardines into your diet, check out this great article by Wellness Mama. Here’s a yummy recipe for Piri Piri Sardines as well.
Albacore Tuna – This tuna is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and easy to incorporate into various recipes. Make tuna salad, add it to a tossed salad, or eat it plain on crackers or bread. Albacore tuna can also be incorporated into casseroles or made into tuna cakes (instead of crab).
Grass Fed Beef –There are many reasons it is healthier to eat grass-fed beef, and omega-3 fatty acids are one of them. While grain-fed beef does not contain omega-3’s, cattle that are raised on grass have the ALA form of omega-3 fatty acids. Most children eat beef in many forms, so purchasing beef that is raised and finished on a grass-fed diet is an easy way to increase omega-3 fatty acid levels.
Chia Seeds – Most kids I work with have never heard of chia seeds, but they are a great addition to kids’ diet for many reasons. In addition to being a great source of omega-3 fatty acids (the ALA type), chia seeds are high in fiber, antioxidants, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Chia seeds can be sprinkled on salads, yogurt, or into shakes or smoothies. I like to add them to the energy bites my kids often eat for breakfast and snacks. They are also easily added to muffins, cookies, or almost any baked good recipe. If your child likes pudding then chia pudding is a great option as well!
Flaxseeds – Flaxseeds are another food many children and teens aren’t familiar with but are full of healthy fat, fiber, and various nutrients. They provide the ALA type of omega-3 fatty acids and can be easily incorporated into many foods. There are many crackers available that contain flaxseed, as well as some packaged pasta and bread. You can easily find ground flaxseed that can be added to shakes or smoothies, yogurt, granola, or baked goods. Mixing flaxseeds with water also makes a great egg substitute in recipes!
Walnuts – Nuts are a great healthy snack, and walnuts are an especially good source of ALA. Most kids will eat these plain, but they can also be incorporated into trail mix, granola, muffins, cookies, oatmeal, and more. Don’t forget that you can crush or grind them to add to smoothies, yogurt, pancakes, or anything else you can think of!
We want to know…
Have you been trying to incorporate more omega-3 fatty acids into your child’s diet? What challenges have you run into? What food sources or recipes have you found easiest to give your child?