Our brains need a steady supply of omega-3 fatty acids to grow and function well.
In addition to an omega-3-rich diet, nutritional supplements of this fatty acid can help children (and adults) get the omega-3s they need. Selecting an omega-3 supplement that’s well sourced, using the highest quality fish oil, makes all the difference in giving your kids the most nutritious, beneficial supplemental omega-3. I’m going to walk you through the process I use and recommend for finding high quality omega 3 supplements.
As parents, we want to give our children the healthiest possible start in life, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Nutrition is a powerful tool to achieve that. Because of their benefits for mental and physical health, omega-3s are an essential dietary source and a popular supplement choice for families.
Picking a supplement can sometimes feel tricky and overwhelming as there are so many options and a lot of loud marketing claims. It can feel tough to cut through the clutter and the noise to identify the best products available for your family.
Here’s what you need to know
Omega-3s are one of the most essential nutritional sources for children and adults. Omega-3 fatty acids, and DHA in particular play a critical role in fueling the growth and development of the brain in early childhood.
During childhood and throughout our lives, omega-3 fatty acids help our brains work properly, fostering the growth and protection of brain cells, and enabling brain cells to communicate effectively. Healthy brain function guides our ability to learn, to think and be creative, to plan and make decisions. Because of their influence over brain function, omega-3 fatty acids can also have an effect on how we regulate and process our emotions and our behavior.
I wrote recently about the importance of DHA for infant brain development and how omega-3s can boost brain health and behavior in children.
Crucial for children
In children, a lack of omega-3s can interfere with healthy brain development, and cause problems with eye development and vision. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency in kids may contribute to difficulties with learning, as well as to emotional and behavioral issues, including hyperactivity, aggression, lack of focus, anxiety, and depression. Research links low levels of omega-3 fatty acid DHA to neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and ADHD. Research also shows that elevated DHA levels can improve the learning, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of these disorders.
What a fishy tasting Omega 3 means
For parents who are interested in omega-3 supplements for their children, it’s important to make sure you’re selecting the highest quality product—and that starts with high-quality fish oil. Omega-3 supplements made from low-quality fish oil may contain toxins, including mercury, that can be harmful for children’s health. Omega-3s made from low-quality fish oil also tend to taste “fishy,” and often use artificial sweeteners, dyes, and other chemical additives to improve their taste and texture. Supplements made from high-quality fish oil don’t have the same fishy taste, and the best providers will use natural flavors, not artificial ones, to make their products kid-friendly.
When it comes to selecting a supplement, you want a company that is transparent: open and eager to share information about sourcing and producing their omega-3 products. (Of course, the same applies for all your supplements, not only omega-3s!) At every step of the process, from the original fish source to manufacturing and packaging, it’s important to select a company that is fully open about the steps they take to create their products. That’s how you’ll know you’re giving your family the highest-quality supplement.
Supplement companies need to earn our trust. After all, these are products we’re giving to the most important people in our lives: our children. Companies earn our trust not only by adhering to the highest standards but also by being open and transparent about every aspect of how their products are made.
Here’s how to spot a well-sourced omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids travel a long way from the ocean to the supplement aisle. Companies that earn our trust demonstrate transparency at every step in that journey. We can break the process down into three main steps:
Sustainable, “friendly” fishing. Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are natural fatty acids that come from fish oil. Healthy sourcing of omega-3s starts with choosing companies that get their fish from fisheries that are run sustainably. Sustainable fisheries rely on healthy fish stocks and treat the environment with care. That means they can deliver fish oil that’s highest in quality—and that’s what we, as parents, want from omega-3 supplements we give to our families.
Sustainable fisheries are ones that:
• Don’t engage in overfishing, which depletes healthy fish populations
• Don’t employ practices that harm the ocean environment
• Manage their fishing to allow fish populations and the surrounding ocean ecosystem to thrive
• Use energy efficient practices to minimize pollution
• Use environmentally friendly waste management practices
When nutrition and supplement companies rely on sustainable fisheries for their omega-3 fish oil sources, the result is a higher-quality supplement for us as consumers and a better, healthier outcome for our environment.
So, do you have to become an expert in fisheries management to pick a supplement? No—and thank goodness, because I’m not one! Companies that rely on sustainable fisheries for their omega-3 fish oil will be very clear and upfront about telling you so. They know how much it matters. And certification programs allow companies to demonstrate sustainability, by meeting specific, objective criteria. When you’re choosing an omega-3 supplement for your family, look for producers who are transparent about their sourcing and are certified in sustainability.
A rigorous, open manufacturing process. Starting with the highest quality fish oil from sustainable fisheries, the next step is to select supplements made by a company you know uses a manufacturing process with strict standards. Before omega-3s make it from ocean life to the supplement bottle in your kitchen cupboard, they need to go through a manufacturing process that filters and purifies fish oil to make the purest, nutritious supplement possible. That requires a commitment to best manufacturing practices, including rigorous testing, and exacting standards of cleanliness, safety, and quality control.
Transparency matters here, too. Select a supplement company that is open about not just how they source their omega-3s, but how they manufacture their supplements. Manufacturers are also able to be licensed and certified as a demonstration of how rigorous their standards are. Make sure your omega-3 supplement company collaborates with a well-certified manufacturer.
Safety first, last and always. Look for a company that is open and upfront about every step in their manufacturing process, including the stages of packaging a supplement for distribution and sale. As parents, we deserve—and should expect—the highest assurances that the supplements we’re giving our families are safe. That assurance comes from companies who practice transparency and maintain certifications for safety.