Nutrition for Better Beginnings: Omega 3’s


This month another in a long line of research studies linking omega-3 consumption of expectant mothers to baby’s brain health was published. The study found that pregnant mice fed a diet similar to the American diet, which is typically low in Omega-3 fatty acids, birthed babies with smaller brains and abnormal emotional development compared to pregnant mice with adequate omega-3 intake.

The two types of omega-3 that are important for baby’s brain development are DHA and EPA. The minimum recommended intake of DHA+EPA for pregnant women is 1400 mg per week. To get there, aim to add two 6-ounce servings of omega-3 rich seafood per week (remember don’t eat RAW fish during pregnancy). Because some seafood is contaminated with mercury, which is harmful to developing fetuses, it is important to limit intake to 12 ounces per week. You might also consider adding a DHA/EPA supplement daily, and replacing corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil (and processed foods made from them, i.e. mayonnaise) with olive oil, nut oils, or canola oil instead (because the former compete with DHA/EPA). It’s useful to note that while flaxseeds and walnuts are very healthful and provide omega-3s, they do not contain DHA & EPA. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, consider a DHA supplement made from algae during pregnancy.

Here is a great list of high DHA & EPA seafood with low mercury contamination.  Wild Salmon is a favorite, but personally, I think sardines are hidden gem when it comes to pregnancy nutrition. Six ounces of sardines contain a whopping 2200 mg of omega-3s (compared to 620 mg for a similar portion of salmon); have extremely low risk of mercury contamination since they are so small; and are very affordable! Try canned or fresh sardines in any spicy tomato sauce (think veracruzna, puttanesca, or diablo) or make a grown-up tuna fish sandwich replacement by mashing in a large bowl two 3.75 ounce cans of sardines (drained), 1/4 cup plain non-fat greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, 2 teaspoons drained chopped capers, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, and salt & pepper to taste. Or try this lovely recipe for Linguine with Sardines & Lemon from Bon Appetit (I recommend using whole wheat linguine for best nutrition).  You’ll be doing something great for your health and making sure your baby has the best possible beginning.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Lindsay Pasdera

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