Fat essential in childrens’ diets.
Yes, we know. Obesity is a huge (no pun intended!)
problem in the United States, costing all of us billions in
healthcare costs as well as leading to many fatal lifestyle diseases.
However, when you limit fat in a child’s diet, you limit the overall
growth and physical as well as mental development of that child.
Pediatricians noticed several years ago that children who were
put onto low fat cholesterol diets failed to grow properly (often
called “failure to thrive”).
During the critical growing years, children need levels of fat substantially in excess of the levels recommended in the US dietary guidelines (which suggest no more than 30% of one’s calories per day be from fat).
However, the dietary guidelines were developed with adults in mind, specifically to lower one’s risk of cardiovascular disease (the number one cause of death in the US). It has been shown that children use more body fat than adults for each calorie expended.
Children also need high levels of fat throughout the period of growth and development (partially due to higher rates of protein synthesis, lipid storage,
and bone growth). For example, breast milk (the ideal food for infants and babies) contains 55 percent of calories as fat, much of it saturated fat.
Healthy fats supply nutrients that are essential for growth and are necessary for
energy as well as the absorption and metabolism of some nutrients. Fat is necessary for brain development, which is 70 percent fat.
Fats are used for building the membranes around every cell in the body and also play a role in the formation of hormones. Animal fats give energy and also help children build muscle and bone as well as providing vitamins A and D necessary for protein and mineral assimilation.
Many low-fat diets are low in zinc and vitamin E. Zinc is essential to growth and proper functioning of the immune system, and vitamin E is an important antioxidant that can help protect against cell damage and disease. For example, a recent study showed that a group of Nebraska preschool children who ate diets low in fat had Vitamin E deficiencies (Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning that dietary fat is required for the body to utilize). Furthermore, when children eat a low-fat diet, they typically consume more high sugar and high starch carbohydrates, which can
lead to blood sugar problems and decreased immunity.
Obviously, the key is to make sure children get the “good” fats, as opposed to the “bad” fats. The wrong types of fats – hydrogenated oils, high in Trans fatty acids – can predispose a child to recurrent infections, inflammatory conditions,and learning disorders.
Hydrogenated oils, such as margarine, are the prime culprits in heart disease and
many cancers. If you read the labels of many packaged and processed foods you buy in the grocery store, you will find that a great number of items contain these unhealthy fats.
Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are found in margarine, shortening, commercial baked goods, fish sticks, fried chicken nuggets, french fries, and most other processed foods.
Hydrogenation alters the fatty acids in the oil, creating artificial fatty acids. The hydrogenation process makes oils toxic to the body by interfering with the metabolism of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Leo Galland, MD, author of Superimmunity for Kids, What to Feed Your Kids to Keep Them Healthy Now – and Prevent Disease in Their Future (Dell 1988) states, “These artificial fatty acids are not only unnatural and unnecessary, they can have a disastrous effect on your child’s body’s ability to use EFAs.”
So what are some ideal foods to fuel your growing child with great nutrients and good fats? Read on for just some examples:
- Avocado: While it may be difficult to get your child to eat avocado due to its color and texture, if you can manage to get him or her to eat some of this healthy fatty vegetable then you’re in luck! Try spreading it on sandwiches, or mashing it with a little cream cheese or on own and having it as a dip with vegie sticks.Avocado slices with apples are another treat that children may like.
- Almond Butter: Almond butter is rich and creamy and usually pretty tempting to kids. Almond butter and apples or celery are great snacks. Basically, anything with almond butter on it or in it is a fantastic addition to a healthy high fat diet!
- Fish: There are plenty of fish options that are high in omega 3 fatty acids which are excellent for health. Most kids love fish sticks, but these ‘processed food’ delights are best avoided for the reasons stated above. Try to get your children to eat fish at least twice a week for healthy fats that are perfect for any diet (and if they’ll eat fish more often, great!) Taking a fish oil is also a good idea. My kids take a 1000mg fish oil each day. They just swallow them like I do. Olivia on the other hand has a kids’ chewable fish oil each day.
- Olives: Kids either love or hate them! Try to get your child to eat olives at a young age to promote an acquired taste to this treat. If your child doesn’t like olives as a plain snack, try chopping stuffed olives (about 6 or 7) and mixing with two tablespoons of softened cream cheese. Spread the olive cream cheese mixture onto celery sticks and serve. This tasty little treat usually goes over quite well with children and the olives make the snack a good healthy high fat treat.
- Full Cream Yoghurt: kids should not be eating reduced fat, diet, low fat etc yoghurts, as adults shouldn’t either. Yoghurt is a great source of probiotics which we could all do with these days. Eat yoghurt daily to help maintain a healthy immune system.
Now you may be thinking that kids just don’t eat this stuff. Well they do! Mine do and always have. And they actually enjoy it, always asking for extra olives on a salad or requesting the largest pieces of avocado.
Don’t just think it’s too hard. Add tiny bits to their plates at each meal and request that they try it-every time. I can clearly remember when none of my children would eat roast pumpkin. Now with all those regular ‘trys’ they all love it. Well Harrison is getting there. They all want the biggest piece now.
I read somewhere when Caitlin was tiny baby that it can take at least 10 ‘trys’ of a new food before a child will eat it. For some reason this has stuck in my mind-no hang on-it’s stuck in my mind because it’s so true.
Stop taking the ‘easy’ way out and serving up white and beige food to your kids every day. Help them become the healthiest people whether still in childhood or as adults that they can.
And while you’re at it. Stop letting them choose for the ‘Kids Menu.’ Children are just small humans, not some other species that eats different stuff.