How to Choose an Essential Fatty Acid or EFA for Children
October 30, 2009 -
We hear a lot in the news about the importance of Essential Fatty Acids or EFA's (Omega 3-6-9). EFA's have been heralded as an important part of preventing and treating many health conditions including:
- behavioural issues like ADD and ADHD
- digestive problems
- cognitive function
- inflammation and joint health
- heart disease.
So it's clear that it's good for us, but there are two questions:
1. How can we sneak more EFA's into our children's diet?
2. How do we select the right EFA for our family, when were faced by so many options at the health food store?
1. How can I incorporate more essential fatty acids into my family's diet.
The ideal way to consume any nutrient is from our food. And the two best sources of Essential Fatty Acids are:
cold water fish (e.g. salmon and cod)
Theoretically, your family can get the minimum dose of EFA's through careful meal planning. However, despite good intentions, life gets in the way and we often don't have as much time to plan or prepare the meals as we would like. The next best thing is to take supplements, which leads to our next question:
2. How do I select the right EFA for my family?
Essential Fatty Acid supplements have come a long way in the last 5 years. So, if memories of your mother forcing you to take a spoonful of cod liver oil haunts you, you can relax. As people are becoming more aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle, nutraceutical companies have recognized that the supplements need to be more palatable for the young and old.
Here are 4 things that you need to consider when choosing your EFA:
This is one of the biggest challenges for the average consumer. As you are staring at a store shelf, how do you compare products Naturopath, Dr. Carissa Doherty of the Natural Care Clinic in Burlington suggests that when selecting a fish oil, you look for pharmaceutical grade or micro-filtered products. These oils are more palatable, with a lighter fish taste that can easily be masked in juice or a smoothy. Unfiltered products tend have a very strong fish flavour, which may give you flashbacks to your younger days. You can look for the words "pharmaceutical" or "microfiltered" on the packaging or another clue is if the amounts of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in the product are listed on the package, then that means the product has been filtered.
You also want to ensure that the product does not contain mercury, lead, PCB's dioxins or other contaminants.
If you prefer a vegetarian source of EFA's then look for a flaxseed oil or hemp seed oil that has been cold pressed. It is important for the oil to be processed on a cold press because exposure to heat will oxidize the delicate alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can form damaging free radicals.
You will notice that EFA's are available with different combinations of Omega 3's, 6's and 9's and DHA and EPA. It is important to have a good balance of Omega 3-6-9's. The appropriate amount of DHA and EPA you need will depend on whether you are taking them for general health benefits or if you are addressing a particular health issue. A naturopathic doctor can help you decide exactly what is right for you and for family.
The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) recommends the following daily doses of EPA and DHA for children (for general health, assuming there are no health issues):
Infants 1-18 months
32 mg of EPA and DHA per pound of weight
Children 18 months - 15 years
15 mg of EPA and DHA per pound of weight
Teens 15 years and over
a total of 500 mg EPA and DHA with a minimum of 220 mg of each
Now I confess, I don't like the taste or feel of oil on my tongue, so taste is a big factor when choosing an EFA for my family. I've bought about half a dozen different flavours, trying to find a product that my whole family will take to no avail. My oldest son is the pickiest, but I've finally found something that he likes and will actually ask to take, the Barlean's Lemon Swirl. My husband prefers just straight oil and my youngest will take almost anything I give him as long as it tastes decent.
Some stores allow you to try a sample of the product before buying it- do it!!! It could save you a lot of money because good quality EFA is not cheap.
I've seen EFAs come in a capsule, a liquid, gummies or a chew (like a candy). You need to decide what form works best for your family.
Kid's capsules are chewable and the oil inside is fruit flavoured. They are a good option for children three and older. They still have a mild fishy taste, but it's not very strong at all.
The gummies and chews are a novel way of getting EFA's into kids. Children will definitely eat them, but in order for them to taste good, you get lower levels of EFA's. For me personally, it wasn't worth the price for the nutritional value, but I can appreciate that it can be the only solution for some parents who want to make sure their kids are having more EFA's.
Liquid EFA's seem to be the best way to get the higher concentration of EFAs for children. If you look at Nordic Natural's Children's DHA and Omega 3-6-9 Junior formulas which come both in capsules and liquid, there is more than double the EFAs in the recommended liquid dose versus the recommended capsule dose.
I prefer the liquids because my older son doesn't like the capsules, but it can be challenging to get the boys to sit still long enough for me to spoon it into their mouth without spilling it.
Coromega has a neat EFA for kids, with each liquid dose individually packaged. My youngest son was able to tear it open on his own and just suck it out- no mess.
While these are some guidelines on how to choose an essential fatty acid for your family, ultimately, the best product for you is the one that best meets your nutritional needs and that you will all take on a regular basis. It's always best to check with a health care practitioner to help you find a product that will address your family's health issues or goals.