Omega-3 for Kids: A Key to Health and Development
- Omega-3s are fatty acids that play a critical role in your child’s development and overall health.
- The body doesn’t make omega-3 fatty acids, so your little one needs to get them from their diet.
- Although oily fish are often recommended as sources of omega-3s for kids, they may not be as healthy as plant-based sources.
- If you feel your child isn’t getting enough omega-3s from their food, consider a plant-based omega-3 supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients every child needs for optimal health and wellness. They’re critical for your little one’s development, especially their brain health and cognitive function, from before birth all the way into adulthood.
Let’s explore what omega-3s are and the many benefits they can offer your growing child. We’ll also look at how much children need and discuss some of the best sources of omega-3s for kids.
What Are Omega-3s for Kids?
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). They’re considered essential because the human body can’t make them, so your child needs to get them from their diet, whether that’s from food or supplements.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids for kids:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood, which get these essential nutrients from algae. ALA is found mainly in plant-based foods and also converts to a small amount of EPA and DHA in your child’s body.
Why Your Child Needs Omega-3s
While the research is still ongoing, the effects of omega-3s for kids seem wide-ranging, and they’re involved in many different functions. They may help with:
- Brain function and cognitive development, improving memory, learning, and attention
- Healthy development of the central nervous and cardiovascular systems
- Eye and brain development — especially in the womb
- Producing many types of critical hormones
- Effective nutrient absorption
- Improving sleep quality
- Decreasing inflammation, which is an underlying cause of many diseases
- Heart health — reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Boosting the immune system
- Reducing allergies
- Reducing symptoms of asthma
- Moderating symptoms of behavioral conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — especially when combined with vitamin D3
- Reducing depression
How Much Omega-3 Your Child Needs
So far, there is some discrepancy around recommended amounts of EPA and DHA. However, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recommends these amounts:
- 0-6 months: DHA: 0.1-0.18% energy (mean of 102 milligrams)
- 6-24 months: DHA: 10-12 milligrams per kilogram of body weight
- 2-4 years: EPA + DHA: 100-150 milligrams
- 4-6 years: EPA + DHA: 150-200 milligrams
- 6-10 years: EPA + DHA: 200-250 milligrams
We do know how much ALA your child needs per day:
- 0-12 months: 0.5 grams of total omega-3s (note that this is a total amount — the rest are ALA only)
- 1-3 years: 0.7 grams of ALA
- 4-8 years: 0.9 grams of ALA
- 9-13 years: 1 gram of ALA for girls and 1.2 grams for boys
- 14-18: 1.1 grams of ALA for girls and 1.6 grams for boys
How to Boost Omega-3s for Kids
Omega-3s for kids are essential even before birth. If you’re pregnant, it’s important to make sure you get enough fatty acids, especially in the second and third trimesters. Once your baby is born, they can get omega-3s from breast milk or from formula, which is often fortified with DHA.
Once they’re eating solid food, the best way to start boosting your child’s omega-3s is through their diet. Conventional wisdom will tell you that fish or fish oil is the way to go, but that might not be the healthiest option.
The Problem With Fish Oil
Fatty fish like tuna and Norwegian salmon, as well as shellfish, are generally considered to be good food sources of omega-3s. However, these may not be the healthiest sources due to contamination by mercury and other toxins like dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB). If you’re going to get your omega-3s from fish, aim for options that are lower on the food chain, like sardines, herring, and mackerel (but not king mackerel). Bear in mind too that overfishing is a very real and significant environmental concern.
Instead, we recommend plant-based sources like chia, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and nuts — especially walnuts — as well as seaweed, and soybean products such as edamame beans and tofu. These sources are easy to incorporate into other foods like soups, stews, oats, yogurt, and smoothies. In fact, there’s a good chance your child may not even notice them.
Omega-3s for kids are also found in small amounts in some vegetables, like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, kale, beans, and squash — yet another reason to introduce your kids to vegetables early on.
In addition, many foods for children — like yogurt and milk — are fortified, especially with DHA, but make sure you check the ingredients list before you buy. These same fortified foods are often also high in sugar, which isn’t so healthy for kids.
Omega Supplements for Kids
If your little one isn’t getting enough omega-3s from their food, you may want to consider fatty acid supplementation.
Omega-3 fish oil supplements are commonly available. Fish oil that’s labeled sustainable is popular, but even if it’s proven to be low in mercury, PCBs, and other common pollutants, there are questions around whether it’s really sustainable. Also, as we’ve already discussed, these may not be the best choice, especially as plant-based options made from algae appear to offer many of the same benefits, without the toxins.
Bear in mind too that supplements are not regulated the same way as food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so do your research before you buy. Check the label to ensure the supplement contains DHA and EPA. Also make sure they’re gluten-free, sugar-free, and don’t contain any artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.
Omega-3s for kids come in several different forms, including liquid, chewable soft gels, and chewable gummies.
The good news is that although not all fish oil supplements taste great, they usually don’t taste fishy — luckily, as that may be a deal-breaker for your little one. The bad news is that to make sure they don’t taste like fish, many manufacturers keep the omega-3 content to a minimum, or resort to adding sugar, sweeteners, or flavorings. Some also deodorize them at high temperatures, which may accelerate oxidation — effectively doing more harm than good.
You can also buy multivitamins that include omega-3s for kids, but the amount of omegas in these is often quite low. Your child may benefit more from a separate omega-3 supplement plus a high-quality multivitamin, like Llama Naturals Plant-Based Multivitamin Gummies. Llama Naturals gummies are made from slow-cooked, real fruit with no added sugar or artificial ingredients.
Omega-3 supplements are generally considered safe for kids but if they do experience any side effects — like diarrhea, nausea, bad breath, or an unpleasant taste — they’re usually mild. That said, it’s always a good idea to check with your pediatrician or another healthcare professional before giving your child supplements.
Omega-3 for Kids: Optimize Your Child’s Growth and Development
Healthy children need to get the right nutrients when they’re growing up, all the way from the womb into adulthood. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for your child’s health, especially the development of their brain and central nervous system.
Although fish oil is well-known for being high in this nutrient, the healthiest sources of omega-3s for kids are likely plant-based. Start with whole foods, and if necessary, consider a plant-based supplement to top up. Combine that with other high-quality supplements and you’ll boost the chances of your child growing up strong, healthy, and with a calm, active mind — and that’s all any parent could wish for.
Llama Naturals is a plant-based nutrition brand that has created the World's First Whole Fruit Gummy Vitamins that are made with no added sugar and whole-food vitamins. They are USDA Organic, Vegan, Gluten Free, free of common allergens, and are slow-cooked on low heat to retain rich phytonutrients & fruit flavor. It’s a win-win gummy vitamin that the whole family will love.