What’s So Great About Fat?

What’s So Great About Fat?

Gasp! The F word… on a family friendly blog? Ok, so it’s not THE F word but sometimes it can sure seem like it in the nutrition world. Despite our increased knowledge about healthy fats like omega 3’s over the last few years, the idea of a low fat diet somehow being the key to health and weight management persists, in the media, in cookbooks, in fad diets and in popular culture (I’m looking at you celebrity baby food diet, blech!). And with children at the centre of the heated conversation about obesity, it’s easy to see how parents might be tempted to go the way of easy to grab, pre-made low fat treats and carving some of the fat out of the meals made at home too. Make no mistake, many of us, children included, eat too much of the “bad” fats, generally agreed to be the animal based fats that, in excess, contribute to an alarming rate of childhood diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Some experts in the fields of health and nutrition insist that children’s diets are to blame while others point to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the slashing of school fitness programs. But one thing everyone seems to agree on; children should not be on low fat diets. Of course, there’s fat and then there’s “F-word” fat. Here’s how to determine which ones to feed your kids and how much they really need.

According to www.kidshealth.org, children “need a certain amount of fat in their diets so the brain and nervous system develop correctly.” As kids age, their dietary fat requirements drop “which is why toddlers need to drink whole milk while older kids can drink low fat or skim milk. (Obviously if you have a vegetarian or vegan child, the milk example doesn’t apply but nonetheless, younger children need more dietary fat).

Casey Seidenberg is the co-founder of Washington, DC nutrition education company, Nourish Schools.  In a Washington Post article published earlier this year, Seidenberg outlines the need for adequate healthy fats in children’s diets.

  • Healthful fat is a concentrated source of energy for the body.
  • It is a building block of cell membranes and hormones.
  • Fat slows absorption of carbohydrates, and other parts of our meals, into our blood. This helps us feel full longer.
  • Our bodies can’t digest and absorb vitamins A, D, E and K without it.
  • Our brains are partially constructed from healthful fats. (Source)

So just how much fat do children need? According to the American Heart Association, “from the age of 2 to 3, 30 to 35 percent of your child’s daily calories should come from fat. And since a single gram of fat is equivalent to 9 calories, a 1,300-calorie diet can consist of 43 to 50 g of dietary fat. After the age of 3, your child’s total fat intake decreases slightly to anywhere between 25 and 35 percent of his daily caloric intake. In a diet containing 1,500 calories, your child can consume 41 to 58 g of dietary fat each day. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, no more than 10 percent of your child’s daily calories should come from saturated fat, regardless of age or gender. In a 1,300-calorie diet, that’s 14 or fewer grams of saturated fat. A diet made up of 1,500 calories can consist of no more than 16 g of saturated fat”. (Source)

So what are the best sources of fat? Aim for more plant based sources than animal. Try a variety of healthy oils in cooking and baking (Seidenberg recommends olive, flaxseed, grape seed, walnut and coconut oil) as well as nuts and avocados for snacking. To get you started, here’s a chocolate milkshake recipe Seidenberg recommends.

So, what if your child doesn’t have a weight issue? It may be tempting to think you maybe don’t need to assess good versus bad fats. But new research conducted at the University of Adelaide in Australia provides “some of the strongest evidence to date that dietary patterns from six to 24 months have a small but significant effect on IQ at eight years of age”. The children with the overall healthier diets (breast milk, low on processed foods, sugar and bad fats and high in good fats) had an “IQ up 2 points” over children with less healthful diets. A chocolate milkshake that makes you smarter… umm, yes please.

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