Recommendations promote oily species like salmon and call fried fish counterproductiveby Craig Weatherby
The importance of fish to kids' future health received a big boost from new consensus dietary recommendations for children and adolescents released by the American Heart Association (AHA). Intended for pediatricians and parents alike, the guidelines say that kids can get a head start on heart-health future even in infancy, and call for increasing kids’ consumption of oily fish.
The new guidelines promote oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and sablefish because they are rich in EPA and DHA: the long-chain marine omega-3s found only in fish and algae.
Both of these marine omega-3s play important roles in cell structure and function, and exert anti-inflammatory effects, while DHA is essential to optimal brain and eye development and EPA is particularly important in prevention of heart disease.
Heart health versus mercury: AHA finds fish benefits to kids outweigh risks
The AHA guidelines, which were devised in consultation with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), directly address parents concerns about mercury. Their press release summarized the experts’ conclusion:
“There is strong scientific evidence that fish consumption helps prevent heart disease, but many consumers are concerned that fish may contain too much mercury to be safe for children.
“Eating baked or broiled fish twice a week is recommended for the whole family. Some types of fish are high in mercury (swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish) and should be avoided by pregnant women and children. However, it’s acceptable to eat many popular low-mercury fish such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish twice a week.
Note: Vital Choice low-weight, line-caught Pacific Albacore Tuna has less mercury than standard canned albacore (0.25 ppm vs. 0.34 ppm).
Fried fish called counterproductive
The AHA statement cautions that many fried fish products have low levels of beneficial omega-3s and are cooked in hydrogenated oils that contain heart-harmful trans fats.
According to Samuel S. Gidding, M.D., chair of the joint AHA/AAP writing committee and professor of pediatric cardiology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, “Serving fried fish sticks can negate the whole benefit of having fish.”
Instead, the guidelines recommend baking or broiling. (Note: the impact of grilling on the nutritional integrity of fish is comparable to that of broiling.)
AHA guidelines in brief
These are the key recommendations presented in the AHA Statement:
Key recommendations for children two and older
- Balance dietary calories with physical activity to maintain normal growth
- 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily
- Eat vegetables and fruits daily, limit juice intake
- Use vegetables oils and soft margarines low in saturated fat and trans fatty acids instead of butter or most other animal fats in the diet [Author's note: We don't agree with this point, as Americans' high intake of synthetic hydrogenated vegetable oils likely harms their health much more than would moderate consumption of animal fats, to which humans became well-adapted during eons of evolutionary history.]
- Eat whole grain breads and cereals rather than refined grain products
- Reduce the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and foods
- Use nonfat (skim) or low-fat milk and dairy products daily
- Eat more fish, especially oily fish*, broiled or baked
- Reduce salt intake, including salt from processed foods
*Note: Our Dr. Northrup Healthy Mom & Baby Packages make it easy to follow this portion of this advice.
Key recommendations for children under two
The expert panel noted that many of today’s toddlers are eating too many calories from the sugars and (nutritionally inessential, often-unhealthful) fats in snack foods, juice and sweetened beverages, and made these recommendations:
- Feed babies breast milk exclusively for the first four to six months of life, and continue breastfeeding through the first year (Physicians should identify infants who are rapidly gaining weight or exceeding the 95th percentile to help correct overfeeding)
- As solid foods are introduced, introduce healthy foods repeatedly (even if they’re initially refused)
- Do not feed foods that have calories without other nutritional benefits
- Delay offering juice until at least six months and then limit the quantity to no more than 4–6 ounces a day
- A one-year-old child needs two cups of milk a day, along with 1.5 ounces of lean meat** or beans, 1 cup of fruit, 3/4 cup of vegetables, and two ounces of grains
**Note: It seems odd that they did not include oily fish here, as as in the recommendations for kids two and older. We suspect an oversight, given that it fits the healthful-protein bill.
Discretionary calories: keeping kids on an even caloric keel
As AHA/AAP committee co-chair Barbara A. Dennison, M.D. said, “The recommendations use the concept of discretionary calories… After one meets nutritional requirements by consuming recommended amounts of nutrient-dense foods and beverages, the additional calories to meet energy needs and for normal growth are discretionary calories. [The AHA panel defines nutrient-dense foods and beverages as “the leanest forms of meat and fish, fat-free milk, fruits, vegetables and grains prepared without any added sugar or fat”.]
Dr. Dennison went on to say, “The more active a child, the more discretionary calories he or she will have. But, for many children who participate in little physical activity, they will have only 100-150 calories per day to spend as discretionary calories on high-sugar or high-fat extras. This is fewer calories than a typical serving of snack foods or sweetened beverages.”
- American Heart Association press release. AHA Statement: Kids need to get a jump start on heart healthy eating, 09/27/2005. Accessed online at http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3034001 October 7, 2005.
- Gidding SS, Dennison BA, Birch LL, Daniels SR, Gilman MW, Lichtenstein AH, Rattay KT, Steinberger J, Stettler N, Van Horn L; American Heart Association; American Academy of Pediatrics. Dietary recommendations for children and adolescents: a guide for practitioners: consensus statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2005 Sep 27;112(13):2061-75.