Omega 3 During Pregnancy
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What is it and what does it do?
Omega 3's are probably the most important nutrients to consume during pregnancy. There are loads of potential health benefits for you and your baby associated with Omega 3 fats.
Omega 3's are a family of unsaturated fats found mainly in fresh fish and wild meats like venison. Omega 3 fats have been associated with such an enormous array of benefits we couldn't possibly list them all here. But following is a list of the top five things you should know about Omega 3 fats if you're pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant.
- Our brains are mostly made from Omega 3 fats. Making sure you have ample levels in the diet is essential for a healthy brain. High levels of Omega 3 are shown to improve memory and concentration.
- Omega 3 helps the development of the baby's brain. Research has shown that Omega 3 fats taken during pregnancy can improve various cognitive functions such as learning and coordination.
- Omega 3's reduce inflammation. Inflammation can lead to many things such as joint pain and increased risk of various diseases. In pregnancy this can mean a reduced risk of asthma in the baby and pre-term labour for mum.
- Having optimal levels of Omega 3 during and after pregnancy decreases the risk of post-partum depression.
- Omega 3 fats contribute to leaner babies who stay leaner later in life more easily.
There are literally hundreds of health benefits to Omega 3 and it is extremely safe to use during pregnancy. There are no health risks associated with increased Omega 3 intake and no real reason to be cautious of this nutrient.
Where do I get it in my diet?
Omega 3 can be acquired from fish, particularly oily fish, wild meats and some seeds. There are various different types of Omega 3. The oils abbreviated as EPA and DHA give us the most benefit and are typically found in high amounts in fish. ALA is also an omega 3 that gets converted into DHA within the body, but this is not a very efficient process and there is less benefit to deliberately supplementing with this form, typically from flaxseed.
Omega 3 supplements are very popular and very common. As always in the world of supplements, my advice would be to find a brand you can trust. If you are going to supplement for the benefit of your baby, it makes sense to get the best you can find.
Supplements come in two forms; liquid and capsules. Liquid is not stable at room temperature and needs to be kept in the fridge. Therefore it is only suitable for being kept at home and taken at breakfast. One teaspoon to one tablespoon is usually ample for most people, taken with food.
Capsules are easier to dose and can be taken with you to work or when travelling as they are stable at room temperature. Three to eight a day is ample for most people taken in divided doses. Both forms are beneficial to mother and baby equally.
How to tell a good product:
- Check for EPA and DHA content. For example a 1000mg capsule of fish oil may contain 350mg total EPA/DHA. A capsule containing 560mg total EPA/DHA is obviously superior, purer and more potent.
- Check that the product is screened for PCB's and heavy metals like mercury. 'Independently lab tested' is a good sign. This is because of the damage we have done to the ocean in the last 40 years. Fish today are contaminated with higher levels of mercury and other contaminants than ever before. The last thing you want is to try to do good for your baby and accidentally consume mercury in the process!
- Oil from shallow water, short life fish is generally the cleanest.
- It's well worth doing some research and looking around for a good brand, of which there are many. Once you find one you can trust you can supplement with confidence that you're doing good for you and the baby.
- Vegetarian? There are a number of good quality vegetarian Omega 3 oils on the market. Mostly they are made from the algae the fish eat to get their Omega 3. These always come in vegetarian capsules as well. Be sure not to buy a cheaper ALA product such as flaxseed oil as this will have less benefits.
If you choose to get all of your Omega 3's from fish...
You can get all of your Omega 3 oils from eating fish. Mackerel, sardines and salmon are all excellent choices. Be aware though that not all fish will have ample amounts of Omega 3.
Here's what to watch out for when selecting fish for Omega 3:
- Buy fresh or freshly frozen.
- Find a reputable, trustworthy fishmonger.
- Select organic or wild fish where possible as fish get their Omega 3's from what they eat. Many farms do not feed the fish an Omega 3 rich diet so the fish never get a chance to accumulate it.
- Buy shallow water, short life fish such as mackerel and sardines or fresh anchovies over larger, longer lived predatory fish like tuna.
- If you do select larger fish, avoid tuna and swordfish as they are the highest in heavy metals.
- Avoid tinned fish as the canning process can destroy the Omega 3 oils.
Other great sources of Omega 3
Omega 3 enriched eggs can be a great source to bump up your intake. If you eat eggs anyway, you may as well get some bonus omega 3 in the process. Wild meats like venison when in season are also good sources of Omega 3. If you like beef, go for grass fed beef over commercial beef where possible as the fat content is far more favourable.