As with carbohydrates in recent years, fats have been wrongly accused of being “bad.” Too much fat can be a bad thing, but fat is an essential nutrient and some are definitely better than others. Certain kinds of fat are actually good for us and are an important part of a healthy diet.
Adequate fat intake is essential to growth and development. For young children, especially, fat and cholesterol play important roles in brain development. For children under 2 years old, fat should never be restricted. Children ages 1 to 3 years should eat a varied diet with about 30% to 35% of calories coming from fat. For children aged 4 to 18 years, about 25% to 35% of calories should come from fat.
Besides supplying fuel for the body, fats:
- help in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K)
- are the building blocks of hormones
- are necessary for insulating all nervous system tissues in the body
Types of fat:
Healthy Fats – these, in the correct portion size, are protective against heart disease
- Unsaturated fats (Found in plant foods and fish)
o Monounsaturated (avocados and plant oils e.g.olive, peanut, and canola oils)
o Polyunsaturated (vegetable oils)
o omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found in oily fish like tuna and salmon – remember the darker the flesh of the fish, the more omega 3 it contains!
Un-healthy Fats – these raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of developing heart disease
- Saturated fats: Found in meat and other animal products, such as butter, lard, cheese, and milk. Saturated fats are also in palm and coconut oils, which are often used in commercial baked goods.
- Trans fats: Found in brick margarine, commercial snack foods and baked goods.
- fat-free foods mean they contain no more than 0.5 grams of fat per serving
- low-fat foods mean they contain 3 grams of fat or less per serving
- reduced-fat and light (lite) – these are often still high in fat as they must just contain less fat or fewer calories per serving than the regular version of that food.
Although eating adequate amounts of fat is an important part of a healthy diet, it is true that many children today do eat way too much fat. An excess of fat in a child’s diet may lead to weight gain and potentially obesity which put children at a greater risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes in adulthood.
Here are some tips to keep fat within the recommended ranges:
- Serve naturally low-fat foods – such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish and from 2 years old – low-fat dairy products (before 2 years old always use full cream dairy!)
- Choose healthier, unsaturated fats (vegetable oils) when cooking and reduce the amount you use.
- When cooking meat, fish, or poultry – choose low fat cooking methods such as boiling, grilling, or baking.
- Always remove skin from chicken.
- Beware of reduced fat and low-fat claims – these products often have more sugar added and just as many calories.
- Send school lunches and pack meals for family outings instead of going to fast-food restaurants or relying on your child to make healthy choices in the school cafeteria.
- When dining out, help kids make better choices. Try including less fat by ordering dressing on the side, choosing mustard instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches and ordering baked, grilled, or steamed dishes rather than fried.