DHA Needs for Kids

DHA is an omega 3 fatty acid with some really important jobs in the body, especially for growing babes. Here’s what you need to know about DHA and what to consider with plant-based babes.

Test tube of microalgae being grown for DHA supplementation

If you recently saw our video on Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) needs during pregnancy, then you already know how important this omega 3 fatty acid is to your baby’s brain and eye development. DHA is the primary fatty acid in the brain, and as such has a lot of big jobs in baby’s cognitive development. 

And perhaps not surprisingly, DHA needs continue after pregnancy. Infancy and early childhood are times of rapid brain growth. DHA accrual continues throughout the first two years of life, making this a super critical period for getting enough omega 3 fat. 

Studies in kids have shown that DHA supports normal IQ and visuo-spacial learning and memory. DHA supports the development of your baby’s intelligence and ability to learn, remember, and perform tasks. 

Furthermore, low blood levels of long chain omega 3 fats have been reported in kids with developmental and behavioral disorders, such as ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, a coordination disorder in kids.

While there’s no firm consensus on DHA dosing recommendations for children, the United Nations recommends the following amounts of DHA and EPA:

  • 100-150 mg per day for kids between the ages of 2-4 years
  • 150-200 mg per day for kids ages 4-6 years
  • 200-250 mg per day for kids 6-10 years 

For children who eat fish and seafood – the primary sources of DHA in the diet – these amounts can easily be met. Many kids eat things like salmon or tuna, which are good sources of DHA.

However, fully plant-based kids who eat no animal products or seafood have no source of preformed DHA through the food they eat alone.  

Some good news is that your body is able to make DHA from the plant-based omega 3 fatty acid ALA. However, the conversion rate is very low and not very efficient. Some experts have questioned if ALA is enough for us to attain optimal levels of DHA.  

Additionally, although infants have the capacity to make some DHA from ALA on their own, most research indicates that they rely primarily on maternal delivery of *preformed* DHA, which they can get from breast milk or fortified formula.  

This is why groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women supplement with DHA. We also think this is a good idea for plant-based kids.  

You’ve probably seen fish oil supplements, which are widely available and are certainly one way to add DHA to the diet. 

For plant-based kids, there’s another option! Many brands have started making algae-based DHA oil, a plant-friendly option for this important omega 3 fat. 

And if you think about it, microalgae is really the original source of DHA – not fish. The only reason fish is such a good source of DHA is because they eat algae and it then accumulates in their tissues over time. Algae oil is basically cutting out the middle man!

Our favorite supplement for kids is Nordic Naturals Vegetarian Baby DHA. It’s made from microalgae and is easy to add to food and drinks, to provide your baby with a daily dose of this important fatty acid. 

Some of the ways we use it at home include:

  • Putting a few drops in breast milk or formula 
  • In soy milk or smoothies for older kids
  • Mixed into baby oatmeal, yogurt, or applesauce

We can guess your next question: does it have a fishy smell and taste? We’re so glad to tell you NO, as we know that this is essential for kids, especially if you have a picky eater. 

Nordic Naturals also makes a baby DHA made from fish oil if your baby is not vegetarian. This is another great option for DHA without concern for harmful substances commonly found in fish itself, like heavy metals and environmental toxins. 

For your confidence, Nordic Naturals uses third party testing to ensure the purity of their supplements.  We think it’s a great choice!

If you missed our previous video on DHA needs during pregnancy, be sure to check that out!

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