It seems there is always some particular nutrient making headlines for newly discovered benefits to both adults and children’s health. Among the popular nutrients in recent years, DHA & ARA have been particularly noted for their importance in pregnancy and infancy. This has led to concern regarding the intake of DHA & ARA in pregnant women and babies, and the popularity of supplements.
Depending on how your baby is fed, there may already be adequate levels of DHA & ARA in his diet. There are some ways, however, that you can make sure.
What are DHA & ARA?
DHA & ARA are two essential fatty acids, part of the Omega-3 fatty acid group. They are also called lipids. They are vital to proper brain and eye development in babies. The body is able to produce these two fatty acids as long as it has a good source of the other lipids required for production, but may not be able to reach the required levels without an extra source.
DHA & ARA Before Solids
In the first 6 months of life, when your baby relies entirely on breast milk or formula for sustenance, those same liquids are the only source of essential fatty acids. Babies acquire DHA & ARA from their mother during gestation, but after birth continue to receive it through breast milk. Until recently, babies fed formula were missing out on this extra supply. Most formulas on the market today, however, are fortified with DHA & ARA. Because the version added to formula is synthetic, opinions are mixed as to whether or not it has the same effect as that in breast milk.
The best way to provide your baby with essential fatty acids for brain and eye development in the first year of life is to breastfeed. Even once you add solid baby foods to baby’s diet, it can be difficult to get enough of these nutrients, so a continued supply from breast milk is important. If breastfeeding is not possible, formula will provide your baby with the synthetic version of the lipids, as well as with the other fatty acids required to allow baby’s body to make DHA & ARA.
Food Sources of DHA & ARA
The best food source of Omega-3 fatty acids are fish. Salmon is especially high in these nutrients. Other food sources include nuts and olive oil. Because DHA & ARA do not appear in a lot of foods, it can be hard to maintain the needed levels through diet alone, especially for babies who are new to solid foods. Some baby foods are now being fortified with the synthetic version, but if you can it’s best to continue breastfeeding while your baby warms up to solids and eventually can eat more of the foods that provide Omega-3’s.
As your baby progresses with solids, you can offer her fish that are low in mercury, and nut butters on whole grain toast. Try almond butter for the best nut source of fatty acids. Cooking with olive oil instead of vegetable oil will get more Omega-3’s into your diet as well, along with your baby’s diet when she is old enough to eat the foods you are eating.
Right now, the best known source of DHA & ARA for babies is breast milk. While there are other ways to provide it, if you are really concerned, try to breastfeed for as long as you possibly can.