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Omega-3 fatty acids:

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that have many health benefits. They are found in high quantities in oily fish. Oily fish are defined as those species that have oil in their tissues and in the belly cavity around the gut. Depending on the species, the fillets of oily fish can contain up to 30% oil.   Examples of oily fish include small sardines, herring, anchovies, salmon, trout and mackerel. Oily fish can be contrasted with whitefish, which contain oil only in the liver and much less overall than oily fish. Examples of whitefish are cod, hammour and haddock. Oily fish have much higher levels of fatty acids. These acids are described as essential fatty acids, meaning that they cannot be synthesized by the human body but are vital for normal metabolism. Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain health by:

  • Lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of sudden death, heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms and strokes.
  • Aiding healthy brain function in infancy
  • Aiding in the development of vision and nerves during pregnancy
  • Possibly decreasing the risk of depression, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and diabetes.
  • Possibly preventing inflammation and reducing the risk of arthritis.
  • Possibly helping to fight cancer

Mercury in fish

Although fish is packed full of healthy nutrients, it also contains high levels of mercury, as well as other fat soluble pollutants, which are not good for young, developing children. These substances accumulate in fish because of water pollution and are found in particularly high levels in species that are long-lived and high on the food chain, such as marlin, tuna, shark, swordfish, orange roughy and king mackerel. Low levels of mercury that are ingested appear not to cause problems, but high levels of mercury in a pregnant mother’s diet can harm the brain of a developing child. The development of the brain of babies and young children is not so much at risk from mercury as that of an unborn baby, but it is still best if young children do not eat as much fish as older children and adults.

How much fish should my child eat?

It is recommended that children under 6 years old eat 2 to 3 servings of fish each week, but not the long living species that are listed above. Canned tuna is a good choice for young children, as only small tuna are used for canning meaning that the mercury levels are very low. In fact, small fish are good for small children in general. When choosing the best fish for children to eat you should select one that when whole, is small enough to fit on a plate. It is recommended that children under 6 years should eat 75g of fish each week, which is the equivalent of three fish fingers. Children over 6 years and adults can double this quantity and eat 150g, which is 2 to 3 servings. If they are consuming fish from longer living species such as those listed above, it is recommended that they eat one serving each week.

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