Why Fish Oil for Kids May Not Be the Answer
- Fish oil for kids contains essential fatty acids, also known as omega-3s.
- Omegas are critical for the healthy development of your child’s brain, as well as for protecting the heart and boosting the immune system.
- Fatty fish are usually recommended as good sources of omega-3s, but they’re often contaminated with mercury and other toxins.
- Plant-based sources, especially algae, are excellent alternatives.
There’s a reason Grandma swore by the health-giving qualities of a regular spoonful of cod liver oil. It turns out that it’s an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids — not to mention high in vitamins A and D.
Fatty acids are an essential nutrient that your child needs for optimal health and wellness. For starters, it benefits brain function, heart health, and the immune system — and the list goes on.
Let’s look at what fish oil for kids is, why fatty acids are so essential, and how you can incorporate them into your child’s diet, even (and perhaps, especially) if your little one doesn’t like fish.
What Is Fish Oil for Kids?
Fish oil for kids — not surprisingly — is derived from fish. It’s best known as an excellent source of essential fatty acids or omega-3 fats. You may also see these referred to as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
Your child’s body doesn’t make omega-3 fatty acids, so they need to get them from their diet. A child who is breastfed will get those fatty acids from their mother — which is a really good reason for mothers to make sure they’re getting enough fatty acids themselves. Infant formula also contains omega-3s, so if you’re bottle-feeding, your baby will get their fatty acids from the formula.
When your child starts eating solids, it’s important to make sure they’re getting enough of the nutrients they need from their food.
Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids: DHA, EPA, and ALA
There are three primary types of omega-3s:
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
DHA and EPA come primarily from marine sources like fish and shellfish — which in turn get them from microalgae — while ALA comes mainly from plants.
There’s some discrepancy between different sources on exactly how much of each fatty acid your little one needs. However, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), these are the amounts you should aim for:
- 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
For ALA, these are the recommended amounts your child needs per day:
- 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
Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish oil for kids contributes fatty acids to their diet. Those fatty acids have many health benefits. For example, they:
- Are essential for brain development in the womb and beyond
- Boost brain health and the ability to focus, plan, and problem solve
- Help with attention, memory, and learning
- Have antioxidant properties that help maintain heart health, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Help the body absorb nutrients
- Decrease inflammation throughout the body
- Support the immune system
- Contribute to better sleep quality, which decreases the risk of behavioral and cognitive issues
- Have been shown to reduce the symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Help to treat depression
Where to Get Omega-3s: Plants vs. Fish Oil for Kids
Fatty fish like Norwegian salmon and tuna are some of the better-known sources of fish oil for kids, but they come with risks. Fish that are high up in the food chain are often contaminated with mercury and other toxins.
Fish lower down in the food chain, like mackerel (although not King mackerel), sardines, and herring are still good sources of fish oil omegas, and are also less likely to contain toxins.
Apart from the toxin issues, it’s also worth considering the environment. Overfishing and lack of sustainability are very real concerns.
On the other hand, there are many good plant-based sources of omega-3s, including nuts, flaxseed, hemp, chia seeds, soybean products, and seaweed. Some veggies also contain small amounts of fatty acids, for example, kale, spinach, squash, avocados, beans, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
And on a side note, if you choose to go with omega-fortified foods for your child, read the ingredients list carefully to make sure they’re not high in sugar — a common problem with fortified foods.
Fish Oil Supplements for Kids
If your little one isn’t getting enough omega-3s from whole foods, you may need to consider supplementation — in which case, it’s important to do your research first.
Some manufacturers reduce the omega content, deodorize the supplement at high temperatures (which can cause oxidation), and/or add sugar, artificial sweeteners, or flavors so the supplement doesn’t taste like fish.
Also bear in mind that supplements are regulated differently from food and drugs. So if you decide to go with fish oil for kids, make sure you buy from a reputable brand and check that the product has been independently tested for mercury and other toxins.
As an alternative, consider a fatty acid supplement for kids that’s sourced from algae. That way you’ll be going straight to the source and cutting out the “middleman” — the often not-so-healthy fish.
Although fatty acid supplementation appears to be low risk — apart from the possibility of an occasional fishy burp — it’s always worth checking with your pediatrician or another healthcare professional before giving your child supplements.
Kids’ omega-3 supplements come in many forms, ranging from softgels and chewable gummy vitamins to liquid supplements.
When you’re buying an omega-3 DHA or EPA supplement — or even better, one that contains both fatty acids — look for a brand that contains the triglyceride form of these fatty acids, which is better absorbed than the ethyl ester form.
To ensure your little one is getting all the nutrients they need, consider pairing this with a high-quality multivitamin, like Llama Naturals Multivitamin Gummies. These delicious multivitamins contain a host of important nutrients, including:
- Vitamin A
- All the B Vitamins
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D2 and D3
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K1
Llama Naturals gummies are organic and made from real fruit and veggies, slow-cooked so none of the nutrients are lost. They’re also free of sugar, artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavors, gluten, and other common allergens, so your little one is only getting the good stuff, along with loads of Llama Love.
Fatty Acids for Kids
Fatty acids are essential nutrients for your child’s development and ongoing wellness. The effects of omega-3s are wide-ranging, supporting healthy brain function, heart health, and the immune system, among many other things.
One source of these essential fatty acids is fish oil for kids. However, fish oil comes with many downsides, including possible contamination with toxins, not to mention environmental issues. Instead, consider far healthier sources like nuts, seeds, beans, veggies, and marine products like seaweed and algae.
If you buy a supplement — whether that’s fish oil for kids or a plant-based supplement — do your due diligence to ensure you’re getting a good-quality, safe product that’s been independently tested.
To keep your child healthy from before birth through adolescence, take care to give them the right nutrients. Start with whole foods, then top up their intake with supplements if needed, like omega-3s and high-quality multivitamins. That way you’ll be giving them the best start of all: a healthy body, heart, and mind.
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.