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Where to Find dHA in Foods

By Jill Castle, MS, RDN

DHA is a vital brain-boosting and eye health nutrient. In the first year of life, babies need adequate DHA to support healthy development and growth.

Mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to consume the equivalent of 300 mg DHA per day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a similar dose of 250 mg per day for pregnant women.

These levels of DHA may be difficult to meet with food sources, especially with the limitations on eating mercury-containing seafood while pregnant. Pregnant women are encouraged to limit fish consumption to 12 ounces of low mercury fish per week. If it’s hard to meet the daily requirement of DHA with food, a supplement may be warranted.

Infant formula has been fortified with DHA since 2002 and can provide your baby with adequate DHA during the first year of life. Salmon, DHA-fortified eggs, canned light tuna in water, and DHA-fortified milk are also common food sources of DHA. DHA can also be derived from food sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. ALA is the precursor to DHA. The body is able to convert food sources of ALA to DHA, though the process is less efficient, especially in people who eat a high-fat diet.

Around nine months of age, gradually add DHA-rich food sources to your baby’s diet. After one year, offer 1-2 servings of low-mercury sources of fish each week, including salmon, trout, shrimp, tilapia, pollock, and canned light tuna. Other sources of DHA include fortified eggs, DHA-fortified milk, and DHA-fortified orange juice. Consider a DHA supplement if your toddler won’t eat fish or other sources of DHA.

Sources:

  • Am J Clin Nutr, June 2007 vol
  • 85 no
  • 6 1457-1464. Castle and Jacobsen
  • Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School
  • 2013. Today’s Dietitian
  • The Role of DHA and ARA in Infant Nutrition.

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