A new study from Oxford University finds that young school children who consumed adequate amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids were better able to concentrate and learn in school.
Omega-3’s, found primarily in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and trout, have many health benefits. They are thought to play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body, a primary cause of chronic disease. The nutrients are also essential for optimal brain function. Previous studies have found omega-3 fatty acids to be beneficial for children with ADHD and learning disabilities such as Dyspraxia and Dyslexia.
Symptoms of Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory and mood swings.
Dr. Alex Richardson and Professor Paul Montgomery evaluated blood Omega-3 levels in 493 UK school children between the ages of seven and nine, all of whom were thought to have below-average reading skills based on assessments or teacher judgment. Parents also reported on their child’s diet, revealing to the researchers that almost nine out of ten children in the sample ate fish less than twice a week. Nearly one in ten never ate fish at all.
Levels of Omega-3 fatty acid in the blood “significantly predicted a child’s behavior and ability to learn,” said Professor Montgomery. Higher levels were associated with better reading and memory, as well as fewer behavioral problems as rated by parents and teachers.
The minimum recommended levels of blood Omega-3 to maintain cardiovascular health (in adults) is 4%, although 8-12% is regarding as optimal. The children in the study averaged 2.45% indicating that all had room for improvement.
To get children to eat more fish, Chef Jamie Oliver offers the following tips:
• Offer it regularly. The more often you offer (and eat it yourself), the more likely kids will be to try it.
• Since kids like “food on a stick,” offer fish kebabs.
• Make fish tacos. Allow kids to build the taco themselves, as they may have fun making new creations.
• Make a fish burger with a baked or lightly fried fish patty.
• Mix canned tuna or salmon into macaroni and cheese
There are other foods rich in omega-3’s as well, including flax seeds, walnuts, grass-fed beef, and soybeans (for those fish-allergic or as an alternative to fish).
Alexandra J. Richardson, Jennifer R. Burton, Richard P. Sewell, Thees F. Spreckelsen, Paul Montgomery.Docosahexaenoic Acid for Reading, Cognition and Behavior in Children Aged 7–9 Years: A Randomized, Controlled Trial (The DOLAB Study). PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (9): e43909 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043909
Additional Resources: University of Maryland Medical Center, JamieOliver.com, The World’s Healthiest Foods