Typical North American diet is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids – fish isn’t the only solution

Cross-posted at BlogHer

New research from the Child & Family Research Institute has shown that the typical North American diet (think meat and potatoes) is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. This information is especially important to pregnant and nursing women since the deficiency may pose a risk to infant neurological development.

salmonOmega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that are typically found in some types of fish like salmon as well as in eggs and chicken in lesser amounts, and in some seeds and plants which we’ll explore later. The fats are especially important for the baby’s developing eyes and brain.

The study revealed that babies of mothers who consumed a lot of meat and little fish and were deficient in omega-3 fatty acids didn’t score as well on eye tests as babies who’s mothers were not deficient.

Dr. Sheila Innis, the study’s principal investigator, head of the nutrition and metabolism program at the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital, and professor, department of pediatrics, University of British Columbia, says “During pregnancy and breastfeeding, fat consumed by the mum is transferred to the developing baby and breastfed infant, and this fat is important for the baby’s developing organs. Our next task is to find out why the typical North American diet puts mothers at risk. Then we can develop dietary recommendations to help women consume a nutritious diet that promotes optimal health for mums and babies.”

This news follows studies that have showed that pregnant women and children need to limit their fish consumption due to high mercury levels. And then, as Katy Farber of Non-Toxic Kids points out in “Do You Eat Fish?” there’s the question of the safety of farmed salmon. So what’s a mama to do?

Dr. Innis believes the key to health for all of us may lie in the old adage – everything in moderation. “For better health, it’s important for pregnant and nursing mums — and all of us — to eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, eggs, and fish while minimizing consumption of processed and prepared foods,” says Dr. Innis.

To my knowledge, no vegetarian or vegan women were included in this study. However, vegan mothers also have ideas on how to stay healthy and get in their RDA of omega-3 fatty acids without looking to fish for the answer.

Debbie Took of Raw for Life points out that omega-3 fatty acids are found in many plants.

The good news for the raw vegan or vegetarian is that omega-3 is contained in many plant foods, such as dark green vegetables (like spinach and broccoli), walnuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and wheat, but one of the very best sources is…flax seeds (also known as linseeds).

Flax seedDebbie includes two tasty recipes on her blog for a Rocket (Arugula) and Mango Salad and an Orange and Flax Energy Drink, both high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Vegan mother Half-Pint Pixie discusses the merits of hemp, wonderful hemp. She adds the seeds to her 1-year-old vegan daughter’s mashed bananas and her daughter happily eats them up.

Vegan mother, cook and best-selling author Dreena Burton is a big fan of hemp seeds and discusses some of her creations such as Hemp-anola!, Hemp Burgers, Chocolate Hemp Squares and Energy Cookies on her blog Eat Drink and Be Vegan.

I consider my kids and myself “flexitarians” in that we eat a lot less meat (and no beef) than the average American. While I already add ground flaxseed to our smoothies, I’ve yet to try hemp seeds. However, all of this talk about chocolate squares and cookies has motivated me to pick some up on my next trip to Vitamin Cottage. I’m highly in favor of any time I can justify eating chocolate and cookies in the name of good health!

Related links:

Safe Fish CHEC List For Children, Teens and All Women of Child-bearing Age
Yorkshire Hemp Limited: Hemp Food Nutrition
Women’s Health: Omega-3 Fish Oil