Along with that all-important iron which I covered over in Critical Nutrients for your Baby: Part 1, another key nutrient to have on your radar is essential fatty acids (you may have also heard these being referred to as omega 3s).
When it comes to omega 3 essential fatty acids there are three main types. These are ALA, or the ‘long-chain’ versions, DHA or EPA. But don’t worry if this all sounds a bit complicated. The main thing is ensuring that your baby is getting this critical nutrient in their diet from six months. This article is all about omega 3 for babies.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids are types of polyunsaturated fats. Babies need these for their health and development. They are so essential they even come with ‘essential’ in the title! Babies can’t produce these themselves which means this important nutrient must come from their food.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids are very specific fats and different to those fats needed for energy. Omega 3s are responsible for:
- The growth and development of your baby’s brain
- Helping the development of the retina in your baby’s eye, and nervous system
Studies also suggest that getting enough of these essential fatty acids impacts on intelligence, social skills and behaviour. So, you can see why it’s at the top of our nutrient hit list!
Which foods are high in Omega 3?
A great form of omega 3 for babies can be found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. My salmon and broccoli puree or, for baby-led weaners my salmon balls with sweet potato and sweetcorn are a tasty introduction to fish!
Ideally, you should include two portions of oily fish in your baby’s diet a week, but no more due to small amounts of pollutants found in oily fish which may build up in the body.
Unfortunately, tinned tuna doesn’t count as a source of omega 3. And, if you are serving-up fresh tuna, make sure it’s no more than once a week due to the high mercury content.
Whilst those essential fatty acids are key, don’t forget that fish, in general, is a fantastic weaning food (and food for the whole family) as it contains other important nutrients such as protein, iodine, selenium, calcium, and vitamin A, so even more reason to include on your baby’s menu!
Omega 3 Rich Recipes:
How much fish is recommended for a baby?
As I mentioned, UK guidelines recommend offering two portions of oily fish per week to your baby (but no more due to small amounts of pollutants found in oily fish which may build up toxins in the body).
There are no set portion sizes for children under 1 year and portion sizes will always vary from baby to baby. But for children aged 1 – 4 years, as a guide, aim for roughly around 40g as a portion.
The British Dietetic Association (BDA) have a useful table for recommended oily fish production sizes for different age groups:
Essential fatty acids for vegan and vegetarian babies
Whilst the best and most effective source of omega 3 for babies is oily fish such as salmon, that’s not to say that there aren’t other foods that can provide a little helping hand on the omega 3 front too. If you are raising your baby as vegetarian or vegan just be sure they are getting a well-balanced diet including plant-based sources of omega 3 essential fatty acids.
Vegetarian food sources of essential fatty acids contain a different type of omega 3 called ALA. To be of most use the body must make this into DHA and EPA (the optimal form of omega 3).
Foods that contain ALA omega 3s that your baby will need to convert include:
- Walnuts (grounded or as nut butter)
- Soya beans
- Flaxseeds, linseeds or linseed oil
- Rapeseed oil
- Chia seeds
- For vegetarians, omega 3 can be sourced via enriched products such as omega-3 enriched eggs and margarine spreads.
It’s important to note that the body’s ability to convert sources of food into the best forms of omega 3 depends on genetic factors. Be sure to speak to your health visitor or a dietitian as vegan babies may require a supplement.
Can omega 3 be passed onto my baby through breast milk?
Yes! This critical nutrient passes to your baby through breastmilk so make sure those omega 3 rich foods are on your menu too!
And, because it is such an important nutrient in your baby’s diet, it’s now added to all infant formula milk.