22nd September 2017, Volume 130 Number 1462

Michele Eickstaedt, Kathryn L Beck, Cathryn A Conlon

Adequate dietary intakes of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) are required during pregnancy to support both the mother and foetus.1,2 Omega-3 (n-3) PUFAs include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA: 18:3n-3) and…

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Adequate dietary intakes of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) such as omega 3 and omega 6 are required during pregnancy to support both the mother and growing baby. An important omega 3 fatty is docasahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is mainly found in fish and seafood, however women may restrict their intake of fish and seafood during pregnancy due to concerns regarding food safety and foetotoxic effects of environmental contaminants such as mercury. Most of the 500-plus women in their third trimester of pregnancy who completed an online food frequency questionnaire had low intakes of omega 3 fatty acids including DHA during pregnancy. Women who are currently pregnant or planning to become pregnant should aim to eat a variety of foods from the four food groups every day, including cooked fish. There is little concern with canned tuna, canned salmon, mackerel or sardines, farmed salmon, terakihi, blue cod, hoki, john dory, monkfish, warehou, whitebait and flat fish like flounder, as the mercury levels in these fish are seen as low risk.



To investigate dietary intakes and food sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids in New Zealand pregnant women.


Women (n=596) 16 years plus in trimester three of pregnancy completed an online food frequency questionnaire validated for omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.


Estimated median [25th, 75th percentile] intakes of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids were: 1,300 [790, 2,120] mg/d alpha-linolenic acid (adequate intake 1,000mg/d); 220 [120, 520] mg/d total long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (adequate intake 115mg/d); and 110 [50, 250] mg/d docosahexaenoic acid (recommended 200mg/d). Only 30.9% of participants consumed more than 200mg/d docosahexaenoic acid. Participants taking omega-3 supplements (19.6%) were 16.5 times more likely to meet recommendations for docosahexaenoic acid. Fish and seafood were the main contributors to docosahexaenoic acid (84.8%) intakes, yet only 21.7% of women consumed fish at least twice per week. Intakes of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids were 11,580 [8,840, 15,760] mg/d linoleic acid (adequate intake 10,000mg/d) and 90 [60, 110] mg/d arachidonic acid (upper limit 800mg/d).


Most participants did not meet recommended intakes for docosahexaenoic acid, which may be partly due to low intakes of fish, seafood and omega-3 supplements.

Author Information

Michele Eickstaedt, Public Health Nutritionist, School of Food and Nutrition, College of Health, Massey University, Auckland; Kathryn L Beck, Senior Lecturer, School of Food and Nutrition, College of Health, Massey University, Auckland; Cathryn A Conlon, Senior Lecturer, School of Food and Nutrition, College of Health, Massey University, Auckland.


The authors thank all the volunteers who completed this study: PC Tong for helping with data handling, Owen Mugridge for developing the study website, Matt Levin, Peter Jeffery and Steve Chalmers for technical support on issues related to the online NZ-PUFA FFQ and database. 


Dr Kathryn Beck, School of Food and Nutrition, College of Health, Private Bag 102904, North Shore 0745, Auckland.

Correspondence Email


Competing Interests



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