Nutrition Spotlight: Omega-3’s and DHA

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Image source: india.com

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient in the body. They are used by the body in the brain and eyes and are thought to have many disease-preventing benefits. It’s important that everyone consumes enough of them, but it is even more so for pregnant and breastfeeding women and their toddlers as they develop – especially if they are eating a vegetarian diet.

There are three main omega-3 fatty acids:

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

All three of these play crucial roles in the body and can only be obtained from food. DHA is considered to be one of the most important fatty acids in the brain development of infants and toddlers. In fact, DHA is the most abundant building blocks of brain and retina tissue and adequate DHA levels have been associated with intelligence and happiness later in life. Because of this, breast milk is extremely high in DHA. But what about after breastfeeding?

The most plentiful sources of DHA are cold water fatty fish, like salmon and tuna. This can leave those wanting to raise their child on a vegetarian diet (or those who have a toddler who just doesn’t like fish!) in a tough place. Fortunately for vegetarian families, there are plenty of ways to ensure your toddler’s brain health if you prefer not to eat fish or use fish oil supplements.

While there are no common vegetarian sources of DHA, it is made in the body in small amounts during the breakdown of ALA, along with EPA. Many oils and seeds are plentiful in ALA – chia seed, flax, hempseed, walnuts, pecans, olive oil, and more. Because of this, most adult vegetarians and vegans have a low but steady level of DHA in their body.

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Image source: flickr user

For infants and toddlers with growing brains, they may need a little more. There is no established dietary reference intake for DHA specifically, but the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids suggests a total intake of 15 milligrams of DHA per pound of body weight in children over the age of 1. Many pediatricians recommend a DHA supplement for omnivorous and vegetarian children alike, as well as their pregnant and nursing mothers.

Vegetarians can take comfort in knowing that there are kid-friendly supplement options. Since fish get their DHA from algae, it is only natural that DHA supplements derived from algae have hit the market. Algal oil DHA has been found to be as effective as DHA from fish and is available in liquid and capsule form for kids of all ages.

All in all, for a healthy growing brain, make sure your toddler is getting at least one serving a day of oil or seeds high in omega-3s along with an appropriate algal oil supplement. Vegetarian moms-to-be and breastfeeding moms should also supplement with DHA for baby’s best start!

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Omega 3 Banana Avacado “Ice Cream” Recipe (Vegan)

Ingredients:

2 ripe frozen bananas
½ avocado
¼ cup pistachios
1 tablespoon sliced almonds
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Chop bananas into pieces a day or two ahead of time and place into freezer
2. If pistachios are still in shells, remove them
3. Place ingredients into a blender or food processor; blend until thick and creamy
4. Spoon mixture into bowl! If you would like it thicker, place it into the freezer for a couple hours after making
5. Top with well-ground up pistachios or flax seed for an extra boost of omega-3

Tip: This recipe can be modified to create a puree for little ones transitioning to solid foods, using just half a banana and half an avocado!

Written by: Amanda Dunham

Sources:
Omega-3 fatty acids: considering microalgae as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA
Harvard Ask-the-Expert
Divine Glowing Health blog

Sources of Plant Based Protein for Toddlers

Kenny Louie at flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_kennymatic
Photo credit: Kenny Louie

As young eaters begin their transition from milk and smooth textures to a variety of finger foods, it doesn’t take long to notice a toddler’s preferences in terms of taste, temperature, and texture. During this transitional phase when many toddlers may only accept certain foods (don’t give up!), many parents worry about whether or not their child is getting enough nutrients. One common area of concern is protein.

Studies have shown that babies between 12 and 24 months of age typically consume about 14-19 ounces of breast milk or formula per day, accounting for about 50% of the baby’s nutritional needs. The amount of protein typically found per ounce of breast milk is almost 0.4 grams, meaning the amount found in those 14-19 ounces usually ranges between 5.3 grams and 7.3 grams. Children between the ages of one and three years old need 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. So what do all these numbers and measurements come down to? Basically, if the average 28 pound toddler needs 16 grams of protein every day, he or she is getting just under half that amount from milk or formula, leaving the other half to solid foods.

So where can toddlers fulfill the rest of their protein needs? Meat or dairy aren’t the only sources of protein available for this job. Here are five plant-based, high-protein foods with a variety of flavors and textures for new eaters to choose from!

1. Green Peas
In only half a cup, green peas provide 4 grams of protein, plus lots of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and other vitamins and minerals. Peas are a fun finger food and easy to serve cooked whole or mashed and added to other soft foods such as mashed potatoes.

2. Cooked Oatmeal
Each half-cup of cooked oatmeal provides about 3 grams of protein, as well as plenty of carbohydrates. Many parents begin with warm cereal like oatmeal to introduce babies to semi-solid foods, but one important tip to keep in mind is to avoid offering sweetened oatmeal initially. This will help prevent a “sweet tooth” from emerging early on, and will help baby try a wider range of foods before craving the sweet stuff.

3. Brown Rice
Brown rice provides about 2.5 grams of protein for every half-cup, making it a great source for toddlers who may love eating the fluffy or sticky grains off their fingers. It may get a bit messy, but brown rice can be a tasty complement to nearly anything!

4. Avocado
Every half-cup of avocado holds about 1.5 grams of protein, in addition to plenty of the healthy fats they’re famous for. Avocado is also quite versatile–it can be served in slices, mashed in a bowl, or blended with many other foods, including baked goods! (Just swap some or all of the butter in a recipe for avocado!) The slight sweetness and soft texture appeal to many first-time eaters.

5. Hummus
One little tablespoon of hummus provides 1.2 grams of protein, making it the most protein-packed contender per serving size on this list! To avoid potentially irritating baby’s system with pre-made hummus that typically includes garlic (which some gassy babies may be sensitive to), tahini (a sesame product that toddlers at risk for a sesame allergy should avoid), and spices, make your own at home by blending cooked chickpeas, a little olive oil, and any other veggie you like that baby can eat. Show your toddler how to dip crackers or other finger foods in, and he or she will be thrilled to imitate!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:
Baylor College of Medicine
KellyMom
Parenting Science