Ask The Expert is a weekly column on Littlestomaks.com. The idea is to have a reader-submitted question answered by a nutrition expert or a pediatrician. Feel free to submit your question in the comments section below.
This week, Family Physician and Registered Dietitian Dr. Shelley Meyer takes a close look at omega 3 fatty acids from natural food sources and processed foods.
Question: I am hearing a lot about omega 3 in food products. Is there a difference between added omega 3 in processed foods and omega 3 from natural food sources? Which one is better?
I am sure by now you have heard that Omega 3 fatty acids are good for you. In fact, studies have shown that they can help reduce heart disease, lower triglycerides and blood pressure, improve osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and improve memory and brain function, especially in infants. Some studies have also shown they can help with depression, though this is currently being debated. Animal studies have even proven that these essential fatty acids may even be able to combat breast cancer.
There are many sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, both in natural food form and in supplemental form. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or fresh tuna, provide the most absorbable forms of omega 3 fatty acids, known as Eicosopentasoic Acid (EPA) and Docoshexaenoic Acid (DHA). Walnuts and flaxseeds are also excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids but in a different form, Alpha-linolenic acid, known as ALA. However, usually only 15% and 5% of ALA ingested are broken down to EPA and DHA, respectively. Therefore, the absorption of vegetable and non-vegetable sources of these fatty acids is not equal.
In recent years Omega 3 supplemented foods have flooded the market, with all encompassing claims of amazing health benefits. More studies need to be done to determine if these enriched foods are equal to natural sources of fish oil, but some studies have been promising. In fact, some small studies have shown that the omega 3 fatty acids in supplemented foods may be better absorbed than fish oil concentrates and gel capsule supplements. This may be due to the fat contained in the food being eaten, which can help the fatty acids to be better absorbed.
In summary, omega 3 enriched foods may be just as good as natural sources of omega 3 fatty acids, but the jury is still out. When looking for omega 3 fatty acid sources for your kids, keep in mind that the daily recommendation for children is 120 mg of DHA and 180 mg of EPA per 10 pounds of body weight.
©2010 Littlestomaks.com. All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer – Information provided in Ask The Expert column on Littlestomaks.com is intended to give you general guidance on a question related to toddler nutrition. It is not meant to be treated as medical advice. You are welcome to contact this expert for a detailed consultation on your specific situation to determine what actions, if any, you should take regarding nutrition and health of your toddlers. We do not recommend you to take any action based solely on the information presented in this column. Experts have agreed to provide their professional opinion on toddler nutrition related questions on a voluntary basis and no compensation is offered to them by Littlestomaks.com.