Pregnant women who eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids late in pregnancy may enhance their babies’ brain development, according to new research in the Journal of Pediatrics. Scientists studied 109 Inuit infants from the northern tip of Quebec and found that babies whose umbilical-cord blood was higher in the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic (DHA) at birth did better in tests of eye and brain development at the ages of 6 and 11 months.
While their traditional diet is rich in fish, many Inuit people have adopted a more Western style of eating; as a result, mothers’ DHA levels at delivery ranged from the low levels typically seen in southern Canada to relatively high concentrations.
A major omega-3 fatty acid, DHA is found in oily fish like salmon and sardines, and plant sources including walnuts and canola oil. Because of DHA’s key role in brain development, experts recommend that pregnant women get an average of 300 milligrams daily. Other sources include fish oil supplements and algae-derived DHA, which is included in some prenatal vitamins. (Check with your obstetrician before taking any supplements.)
Health Canada recommends that pregnant and breast-feeding women avoid some fish, however, due to potentially high mercury levels. These include shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
For more on the role of omega-3 fatty acids, how much is enough and thebest ways to add them into your diet, see our article in the launch issue ofBest Health, on newsstands now.