The food that we eat plays a pivotal role in our health. A balanced diet provides adequate amounts of all nutrients in the required proportions. It can be easily practised by including a combination of the four basic food groups – (1) cereals & pulses; (2) vegetables & fruits; (3) milk and milk products, meat and fish; and (4) oils, fats, nuts and oilseeds, in our daily diet. This article emphasizes on the importance and nutritional significance of fish in your toddler’s diet.
How fish is an ideal non-vegetarian food
Toddlerhood is identified as a stage of growth spurt. It denotes a transitional phase from dependent to independent feeding when your child starts to acquire self-feeding skills and develops individual food choices. The practice of feeding a typical omnivorous diet to your child sets in during this phase. When it comes to non-vegetarian foods, it is common to get baffled by the number of choices and cooking methods available. However, fish deserves special attention.
Why fish is good for the brain
Fish consumption offers potential health benefits, particularly, in the neurodevelopment of your child. This brain beneficial characteristic of fish can be attributed to the type of fat present in it. Fat can be classified as saturated and unsaturated, of which the unsaturated fat is healthier. Unsaturated fat is further classified into monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) – omega-3 and omega-6. The low levels of saturated fats and the high levels of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – the key factors in brain development, makes fish unique in its nutritional value. Thus, fish has an edge over other non-vegetarian foods which in the long term may result in positive health outcomes in your child’s life.
Nutrients in fish
In terms of the nutritional composition of fish, it is not a great source of carbohydrate, but an excellent source of protein quality and quantity. The biological value (per cent of given nutrient utilized by the body) of fish protein is 80. It is rich in essential (non-synthesized by the body) amino acids such as lysine and methionine. Fish contains fat-soluble vitamins and a few water-soluble vitamins (Niacin and B12) as well. Fish is rich in calcium, particularly small fish consumed with bones. Marine or ocean fish are good source of iodine, selenium and fluoride. Shell fishes such as prawns, crabs, lobsters and oysters are rich in iron, copper and zinc.
Health benefits of fish
The long chain PUFAs present in fish, especially the DHA and EPA, carry a high significance during the growing years, as they are important for the proper functioning of every cell in the body especially the brain, eye and heart. Scientific evidence proves that deficiencies of these fatty acids may contribute to behaviour and learning disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and autism. Fish also exhibits anti-asthmatic potential. According to the Indian Food Composition Tables (2017), the varieties of fish rich in DHA and EPA are: salmon, pomfret, catfish, sardine, pink perch and seer fish. For example, 50 g of an edible portion of salmon contains 203 mg of EPA and 592 mg of DHA. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recommends a daily intake of EPA+DHA = 100-150 mg for children belonging to the age group of 2 to 4 years.
Despite the nutritional goodness of fish, it is also a major source of mercury burden for children worldwide. Mercury is incorporated into the muscle of the fish which lives in polluted marine or fresh waters. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates methyl mercury as a potential neurodevelopmental toxicant in children. The hard fact is that cooking does not eliminate mercury from fish muscle. A study conducted by Bose-O’Reilly in 2010, has identified the following species to be high in mercury contamination – Mackerel king, shark, swordfish and anchovies. Avoiding these types of fish in your child’s diet is a key step to prevention. In addition, evidence suggests that nutritional supplementation of Vitamin ‘E’, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids and addition of garlic (a source of selenium) aids in the reducing mercury toxicity.
Another piece of caution to include fish in your child’s diet is that fish is one of the eight major food allergens in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (the Act) of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If your child is allergic to fish, foods enriched with DHA and EPA such as breads, pastas, juices, spreads, milk, malted beverages, yoghurt and supplements (prescribed by a physician) are healthy alternatives. More evidence is required to evaluate the consumption of sea algae and its byproducts, in place of fish. Algae could perform as a super food if you are a vegetarian or if your child is allergic to fish, to strike the fatty acid balance and prevent its deficiencies leading to neurological disorders.