Low intake of vital fatty acids in children: ICMR-NIN

A fisherman proudly displays his huge catch of fish from a lake on the outskirts of Hyderabad on Saturday. Nagara Gopal  

Scientists at the ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) have found out that there is a low intake of the essential ‘omega-3 PUFA’ or poly-unsaturated fatty acids in the dietary sources among healthy children in Hyderabad though about 80% of them have been consuming fish.

Nuts, oil seeds, sea food apart from fish are rich in omega-3 PUFA, and the key for normal metabolism and functions of the body. In a study done on 625 healthy children aged between 7 and 13 years, selected from five different schools, the scientists realised fish consumption frequency was quite low (only 100g once in a month) and most of them were consuming fresh water fish while only <4% were taking marine fish.

“Our study found that although majority of children (96%) were non-vegetarians, their fish consumption was low. Consumption of walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds was also very low,” said lead author Dr. P. Devraj.

While all the Fatty Acids (FA) essential for normal metabolism and functions of the body are synthesized within, two varieties of PUFAs - Alfa-Linolenic Acid (ALA or n-3 or Omega-3) and Linoleic Acid (LA or n-6 or Omega-6), are not synthesized. Therefore, they must be met from the diet and hence, these are called Essential Fatty Acids (EFA), said a press release.

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the biologically active long chain Omega-3 PUFA of ALA variety. DHA is the most abundant omega-3 PUFA in the brain required throughout the life to maintain cardiovascular, cognitive and immune health. DHA accumulates in the foetal brain during the last trimester of pregnancy and continues to increase up to two years. Early childhood is a period of rapid brain growth and maturation.

ICMR-NIN recommends 100 to 200g of fish per week as both DHA and EPA are found exclusively in marine fish, particularly in salmon, mackerel, and sardines, and in small amounts in meat, poultry, and eggs. DHA and EPA are not found in vegetarian foods, but its precursor ALA are found in flax seeds, chia seeds, nuts like walnuts, and selected plant seed oils such as soyabean and mustard.

“Efforts need to be taken to increase consumption of food such as nuts, oil seeds, fish and sea food rich in omega-3 PUFA to improve cognition, concentration, and behaviour among children, based on these findings,” said ICMR-NIN director Dr. R. Hemalatha, who supervised the study. It was published in the official journal of International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids - https://www.journals.elsevier.com/prostaglandins-leukotrienes-and-essential-fatty-acids.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 2:48:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/low-intake-of-vital-fatty-acids-in-children-icmr-nin/article34721477.ece

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