Nutrition Essentials

The role of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids in your toddler's diet

Toddler eating

Fat sometimes gets a bad rep, but it’s essential fuel for the body: fuel to store energy, fuel to exert that (seemingly endless) energy, fuel to grow. It’s why by the time your child turns one, the body fat makes up to 20% of their total body mass.

The first 2 years of life is a critical window for growth and development. It is also a period where your child’s brain function is at its most malleable – and nutrition has the power to stimulate or slow it.

So, when it comes to fats, how can this once shunned food group help to get your child’s development off to the best possible start?

What are fatty acids?

Fats – or fatty acids – come in many forms: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, trans fats, some of which are more beneficial than others. And when it comes to your little one’s nutrition, a healthy amount of the long-chain polyunsaturated variety is a must.

Proven to contribute to normal cognitive function, reduce the risk of allergies and prevent many auto-immune diseases, the two key fatty acid families – Omega-3 and Omega-6 – are considered essential for healthy development, from conception right through to adulthood.

But in spite of their many benefits, we’re incapable of producing these little miracle workers ourselves, which means we rely on a nutritionally complete diet to do the hard work for us – and our little ones, too.

Fatty acids and growing bodies

Fatty acids play a hugely important part in child’s development – one of the key types of Omega-3 in particular, while tricky to pronounce, is integral to your child’s physiological and cognitive progression – Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

DHA plays a major role in developing the retina (eye) and the central nervous system. It’s also been found to revitalise brain cells. But the initial extent of DHA benefits depends largely on mum’s nutritional intake during pregnancy and then during the first 1000 days. It means an imbalance or deficiency in fatty acids at this critical stage can have significant long-term implications. On top of this, mums missing out on those all-important fatty acids are missing out on a whole host of wellbeing benefits for themselves, too.

Omega-3 is equally as important for maintaining cognitive functions as we age. But above all, it’s a major mood booster.

Which foods contain Omega-3 and Omega-6?

Think Omega-3, think oily fish, like tuna, mackerel, salmon and sardines. Vegetable oils, such as flaxseed and canola, also provide healthy amounts of the good stuff.

Like Omega-3, Omega-6 is also found in certain vegetable oils, in this case, soybean and sunflower (among others) and while these are useful in small quantities, they also feature heavily in a lot of processed foods.

Ensuring your child has a well-balanced diet is a simple way you can manage intake and make sure they’re getting all the good stuff, too. If your toddler isn’t a lover of these foods, a toddler milk enriched with DHA like Aptamil Toddler can also help them get these nutrients when complemented with food.

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