When we talk about nutrition, the word “balance” is often used, and it’s especially important with essential fatty acids (EFAs).
Balancing the two most common types of EFAs, omega-3 and omega-6, is something many people find a bit challenging since the western diet (Standard American Diet, or SAD) is high in oils that are rich in omega-6s, which are pro-inflammatory (meaning they can promote inflammation in the body).
We’d like to help you achieve the healthiest balance of EFAs for your children and yourself, and that means a one-to-one ratio of these two important nutrients. Nature intended that our diet be relatively close to a 50/50 omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, but unfortunately many of us are far from this ideal balance. In fact, more realistic ratios today indicate 1:9 omega-3 to omega-6.
What are omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids?
Essential fatty acids are substances that must be obtained from food (or supplements) because the body cannot synthesize them. EFAs play a significant role in immune system function, blood pressure regulation, and the integrity of cardiac cells, among many other tasks. Both omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs are healthy unsaturated fats when consumed in a balanced way.
The two most prominent omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both are found primarily in fish and fish oil and are important components of cell membranes while also possessing anti-inflammatory abilities. Another omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found in several foods such as walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and soybeans but not fish.
Omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, gamma linoleic acid, and conjugated linoleic acid. These fatty acids have a role in blood clotting, promoting immune system health, and regulating genes. Foods with omega-6 include corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, meat, peanut butter, and snacks such as potato chips. With so many omega-6 laded foods on our store shelves, it’s no wonder we’re severely omega-3 deficient.
Another fatty acid worth mentioning is omega-9, which unlike omega-3 and omega-6, can be produced by the body. However, they are also beneficial when obtained from food and supplements, as they may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Why is an imbalance of EFAs unhealthy?
A diet that leans in favor of omega-6 fatty acids promotes inflammation, which plays a role in many common serious health conditions. For example, too much omega-6 EFAs in your diet can raise blood pressure resulting in blood clots (and thus the risk of stroke and heart attack), and lead to fluid retention. A balance of omega-3 and omega-6, however, can help ward off these problems.
Benefits of EFAs for prenatal and postnatal development
Omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs benefit the heart, brain, and immune system. However, these essential fatty acids also play various roles in the health of expectant moms, and also with both prenatal and postnatal infant development.
For example, among pregnant women, consuming omega-3s such as fish or fish oil have been associated with higher test scores of brain function and intelligence in early childhood.
DHA plays a significant role in the health of expectant moms and their infants. For moms, getting a sufficient amount of DHA can reduce the risk of premature births. Research suggests 600 to 800 milligrams of DHA daily can help achieve this goal. Eating 8 ounces of fish, which is rich in omega-3, every week or taking a DHA supplement is highly recommended.
DHA is also necessary for vision and brain development in infants during pregnancy and for the first several years of life. Pregnant women should consume omega-3 fatty acids on a regular (preferably weekly) basis because omega 3’s can help with problem-solving abilities and high blood pressure—the latter of which is a complication in some pregnancies. This fatty acid also supports attention spans in children.
EFA supplements for you and your children
Getting a healthy amount of EFAs from your diet can be a challenge at any age, but especially for children. That’s why it’s important to have delicious, easy to take liquid or chewable supplements on hand. ChildLife® Essential Fatty Acids provide omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 EFAs formulated for infants through adolescence. ChildLife® Essentials also makes a Prenatal DHA for pregnant moms in convenient natural lemon flavor fish softgels.
Cod liver oil is another excellent EFA supplement. ChildLife®’s cod liver oil has a yummy strawberry flavor and is free of detectable levels of toxins. Infants starting solid food all the way through the teenage years would greatly benefit supplementing with cod liver oil, and moms-to-be and nursing moms can spoon up too. Not a fan of liquids? No problem! Try ChildLife®’s berry-flavored chewable Pure DHA tablet instead.
Essential fatty acids are important for the growth and development of children, both before and after they’re born. Pregnant and nursing women also need a consistent EFA intake so opt for a tasty, easy-to-take, high-quality supplement brand that understands the needs for both mom and baby.
Casey J. The truth about fats. WebMD
Helland IB et al. Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics 2003 Jan; 111(1): e39-44
Yelland LN et al. Predicting the effect of maternal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation to reduce early preterm birth in Australia and the United States using results of within country randomized controlled trials. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 2016; 112:44-49