“We are what we eat” the old saying goes, and a new study suggests that if our kids are eating foods high in Omega-3 DHA their brainpower improves. 

Researchers at the University of Oxford have found that a child’s blood levels of long-chain Omega-3 DHA can significantly predict how well he or she is able to concentrate and learn.

“From a sample of nearly 500 schoolchildren, we found that levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood significantly predicted a child’s behavior and ability to learn,” said co-author Paul Montgomery, Ph.D., from Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention.

“Higher levels of Omega-3 in the blood, and DHA in particular, were associated with better reading and memory, as well as with fewer behavior problems as rated by parents and teachers,” he said.

If you’re wondering what foods are high in omega-3 DHA, nuts and certain fish lead the list.

Seafood is a great source for DHA and EPA omega-3s, both essential for healthy hearts and brains. Look for seafood rich in omega-3s, such as:

  • Halibut
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Trout
  • Tuna (fresh)

Bread and pasta are some of the foods most commonly enriched with omega-3s. You'll also find them in whole foods like seeds and nuts. When shopping, look for omega-3s in: 

  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Crunchy Oats
  • Flaxseed
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Peanut butter
  • Oatmeal
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Pizza, packaged
  • Flour tortillas
  • Walnuts

Other products that may be enriched with omega-3s are:

  • Eggs
  • Margarine
  • Milk
  • Juice
  • Soy milk
  • Yogurt

Omega-3s DHA are also found in many oils and green vegetables.  

Blood samples were taken from 493 schoolchildren between the ages of seven and nine for the study. All of the children were thought to have below-average reading skills, based on national assessments at the age of seven or their teachers’ current judgments.

Analyses of their blood samples revealed that, on average, just under two per cent of the children’s total blood fatty acids were Omega-3 DHA and 0.5 percent were Omega-3 EPA with a total of 2.45 percent for these long-chain Omega-3 combined. This is below the minimum of 4 percent recommended by leading scientists, with 8-12 percent regarded as optimal, the researchers reported.

Parents also reported their child’s diet, revealing to the researchers that almost nine out of ten children in the sample ate fish less than twice a week, and nearly one in ten never ate fish at all.

“That gives serious cause for concern because we found that lower blood DHA was linked with poorer behavior and learning in these children.  Most of the children we studied had blood levels of long-chain Omega-3 that in adults would indicate a high risk of heart disease.

This was consistent with their parents’ reports that most of them failed to meet current dietary guidelines for fish and seafood intake. Similarly, few took supplements or foods fortified with these Omega-3,” said Dr. Alex Richardson, co-author of the study.

Foods containing Omega-3 DHA are readily available for the whole family and previous studies have shown that not only are they good for a person’s brain and heart but can benefit children with ADHD, Dyspraxia and Dyslexia.

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.

Sources: Traci Pederson, http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/09/14/omega-3-strongly-linked-to-behavior-learning-in-children/59556.html