Fish and other seafood is high in omega-3 fatty acids that are critically important building blocks of cell membranes, says Dr David Perlmutter, neurologist and fellow at the American College of Nutrition. Cell membranes are the part of the cell that communicates with the child's environment and sends signals to the insides of the cell. A diet rich in omega-3's builds a more responsive immune system, Perlmutter says.
Omega-3's also help in developing a child's brain. A 2006 Harvard School of Public Health study concluded that diets high in fatty fish aided important neurological and brain development in children.
Comparable to other animal protein sources like chicken, eggs, turkey and low-fat cheese, seafood is high in protein, which helps increase kids' energy levels and helps restore muscle tissue. Unlike beef and turkey, which are higher in artery-clogging saturated fats, seafood is guaranteed to be lean.
Government guidelines announced in early February highlight the importance of seafood in the human diet, but that's only half the story. On the other hand, The Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and American Heart Association suggest pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children should limit their seafood intake to two portions (or 6 ounces) of oily fish per week due to potentially high mercury levels.
The same Harvard study concluded that eating fish for its health benefits is a far better option than not eating it for its potential risks. Mercury poisoning is certainly a concern, Perlmutter says."[Mercury] is indeed a very real and present issue, not just for children who tend to accumulate mercury and other toxins from seafood more than adults, but for all of us," he says. As an alternative to fish high in toxins and mercury, Perlmutter suggests serving your child wild salmon, which is lowest in contaminates and high in omega-3 fatty acids like Docosahexaenoic acid, otherwise known as DHA.
As soon as children can eat solid food, they can reap the benefits of eating fish, Perlmutter says. To serve seafood to solid-eating infants and toddlers, puree the fish of your choice in a blender. If you want your newborn to get their intake of omega-3's, eat seafood yourself. A mother who breastfeeds her infant transmits the fatty acids to her child, according to the Harvard study.
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