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

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

  1. I get a little confused about how much Omega-3s we need in our diets because there’s no RDA (at least in the U.S.) yet, right?

    Do you know what the recommended amounts are elsewhere for kids, adult women, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women?


  2. Thanks for a great post! We eat a lot of salmon, and I do worry about the mercury. Then again, eating salmon still probably is healthier than eating growth hormone-filled red meat, which we don’t eat as often..

  3. I have struggled with this because I can’t stomach fish. I used to love seafood, and being a Baltimore resident, cooked and ate it a lot. However, my first pregnancy left me with a serious aversion to most types of seafood and even now I can’t walk past the seafood department without gagging.

    In addition, flax, broccoli and spinach are all on the list of goitrogenic foods, and because I have thyroid disease, I have to watch my intake of those foods.

    Thanks for this post, I’ll have to consider buying enhanced eggs.

  4. I love that you balanced the fish and vegetable sources for omega-3 fatty acids. Too often we are only told to eat fish which can make it challenging for vegetarian and vegan families. You truly are a green goddess with some terrific crunchy wisdom to share with the rest of us! By the way, over at http://greenbabyguide.com we finally found a way to make commenting on our site much easier than it was in the past. Feel free to visit anytime!

  5. It really can all be sooo confusing. However, I’m getting there. We eat a lot of eggs and chicken around here. And we snack on nuts. But since none of those items has a label to show you what you’re consuming I don’t know if we’re getting enough.

    I know I didn’t get enough with either pregnancy because I wasn’t aware of things like I am now. I regret not taking better care of myself and my babies. I wonder if that’s part of the reason for my first borns issues with learning? I guess it isn’t good to wonder such things since there isn’t anything that can be done now, but you can’t help but think of it.

    I’m also going to be taking him in to see what vitamins/minerals he is deficent in and maybe what metals (etc) he has too much of in his body.

    I want my entire family to be as healthy as I can get them. I feel like it’s my responsibility to offer my kids love, security, happy home and health.

    Nell @ Casual Friday Everyday

    Find me on twitter:

  6. Flax and hemp seeds are both amazing. Veg*ns (or anyone that doesn’t consume fish) need to be sure they get a lot of DHA if pregnant (and anyways!), which can be found in vegan form in algea based supplements (algea is where fish get the DHA – they eat it and it is concentrated in their bodies, same how B12 is in meat due to bacteria in the soil). DHA can be made by the mother’s body from the Omega 3’s in veg sources, but many women have poor DHA converters (for lack of a better term) and since there is no way to know if you convert well or not it’s best to supplement.

  7. We add milled flax (I read somewhere that the body processes it more easily than the seeds) to everything: smoothies, muffins, pancakes, brown rice.

    I’ve also found that increasing my Omega-3s during pregnancy helps prevent and discourage a rash that I usually get during the entire pregnancy (not PUPPS). I used to itch tremendously, when my MW told me to start taking a Flax or Fish oil supplement. I took two 1500mg a day, and my rash disappeared within 2 days.

  8. Growing up where I could trip off my back porch and land in the ocean living land locked now is tough.The fish here is disgusting old and smelly. Thankfully I can consume flaxseed oil and sneak it in for my husband and son.

  9. I kkep hearing more and more about hemp and ow nutritious it is – I may have to try some in cooking soon. Thanks for the idea.

    BTW, I have Kieran’s birthstory up on my blog right now. I thought you might be interested in reading it 🙂

  10. My third son (now 4) had Verbal Apraxia and could not speak a word 12 months ago. Along with intense speech therapy, I gave him Nordic Natural’s Omega 3-6-9 supplements.
    I learned that research showed kids with Apraxia (inability to speak) were helped by this treatment. Within a month after starting the supplements, he started speaking. Apparently the fatty mylein shealth that covers our neural nerve cells sometimes need more ‘healthy fats’ to transmit signals correctly. This is often seen with Apraxia and kids with ADHD.
    The more research I did the more I became convinced we all should take them.
    Depression, ADD, dry skin -they are all helped with a full round of fatty acids.
    My suggestion- go to whole foods, buy the Nordic Naturals brand, and skip the less expensive brands. It is purified, contains no vitamin A or D -which is toxic in high doses, has no fishy smell or taste, and is toxin free -unlike fish.
    Whew, I just wrote a novel!
    Can you tell I’m passionate about this one?
    Love to ya,

  11. Love your blog and this is a really informative post. I found you while sifting through Mommytoo.com. You sound like a kindred spirit.

    I am in a company of a very few being a black mother who bfeeds, babywears and believes in a green lifestyle. No matter the race, it’s good to find other mothers who believe the same.

  12. When I had post partum depression 3 months after my son was born, my Dr. told me since I was nursing there was no safe meds. for my depression. He encouraged me to to take two teaspoons of pure, organic, flax seed oil a day, along with extra B vitamins. He mentioned that nursing mothers can be very deficient in Omega-3’s, since most of it leaves the body in the breastmilk for the baby.

    I accidently thought he said to take two Tablespoons a day, and I did. Within two days, I felt like a new person. It was amazing! Accidently taking two Tablespoons instead of teaspoons didn’t hurt me, but I did switch to teaspoons. I still take one teaspoon a day. I notice when I forget, I start to feel blue again. (I am still nursing my almost two year old son). Within hours of taking flax seed oil, I feel better.

    I think it is so important to let new and nursing mothers know that they need extra Omega-3’s, *especially* if they are nursing. Most nursing mothers don’t get any nutritional advice other than the basics, like drink extra water.

    In my case increasing Omega-3’s, and B vitamins cured my post partum depression without drugs. It is an amazing compound.

    A Mama’s Blog

  13. If you ever want to come back around to this post, with sort of a new twist on it and link back, I have a GREAT muffin recipe that includes flaxseed meal. These are ‘jump start your morning’ muffins! Easy recipe, that kids can also participate in.

    I hope you like them as much as we do. 🙂

    Bran Flax muffins
    1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
    3/4 cup flaxseed meal
    3/4 cup oat bran
    3/4 cup brown sugar
    2 tsp baking soda
    1 ts baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    2tsp cinnamon
    1 1/2 cups carrots, shredded
    2 apples, peeled and shredded
    1/2 cup raisins or craisins
    1 cup nuts, chopped
    3/4 cup milk
    2 eggs, beaten
    1 tsp vanilla

    mix together flour, flaxssed meal, oat bran, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir in carrots, apples, raisins and nuts. Combine milk, beaten eggs and vanilla. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Stir until ingredients are moistened. Do not over mix. Fill directly into greased muffin tin molds, 3/4 full. Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes (my oven takes 35 min).

  14. Excellent post! Wow!

    I would only add to use something like Rejuv! which adds hull lignans to the flaxseed and is cold-milled and ready to use in any baking or for smoothies etc… You can get it exclusively at http://www.rejuvnow.com. I use it every day (well twice a day)

  15. While I’m not a mother, I am a newborn care specialist (and soon to be surrogate for my cousin). I’ve been eating hemp seeds for a few months now and they’ve done wonders for me. I have ADHD, Panic Disorder and OCD and with daily intakes of hemp seeds, I noticed many symptoms of all three disappear, and those that didn’t are significantly less. After doing research, I found that it is because of the EFAs found in hemp. Many people suffering from personality disorders or learning disorders actually have a problem with an EFA deficiency, but most doctors dont know to or how to look for it.

    I have a few favorite recipes I’d like to share with you all.

    Apple Cider Oatmeal
    (serves 3)
    1-1/4 cup cider
    1-1/4 cup water
    1-1/4 cup oatmeal
    1 diced granny smith apple
    1-2 teaspoons of vanilla
    1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup hemp milk (either flavored or plain)
    1/4 cup hemp seeds

    1. Bring cider and water to a boil.
    2. Add oatmeal and cook on low for 3 minutes, stirring occassionally.
    3. Add the apple, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar. Cook on low for another 3 minutes, or until oatmeal is tender.
    4. Remove from heat, then add milk and seeds. Stir well and then serve.

    Chicken and Rice
    (serves 2)

    1/2 cup shredded chicken (can be cold or warmed, I prefer it cold)
    1/4 cup rice
    3/4 cup water
    1 can of corn
    3 tablespoons hemp seeds
    Spices as desired (I dont have a certain mixture of spices, as I generally just reach up and grab whatever looks good at the time)

    1. Cook the rice until tender (Add the spices at the beginning so it absorbs the flavor).
    2. Cook the corn as you like (I prefer to boil it in the juice it was canned in, but I know people who prefer it steamed. If you boil it, drain the water before adding the corn to the finished product).
    3. Put the chicken in first, add the rice and then corn, then put the hemp seeds on top. Mix thoroughly, serve and enjoy.

    Regular Cinnamon Sugar Oatmeal
    (Serves 1)

    1/2 cup hemp milk
    1/4 cup oatmeal
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

    1. Boil the milk.
    2. Add the oatmeal and bring the temperature down to low, cook for 3 minutes.
    3. Add the sugar and cinnamon, then cook until tender.
    4. Remove from heat, serve and enjoy.

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