Fat is an essential part of a child's diet for both cell growth, metabolism and energy. However, it is important to make sure this comes mainly from healthy sources (good fats as opposed to bad fats).
It is a common myth that eating fat will always make your child overweight or obese. In fact, for many years many governments have promoted the low fat diet and food manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon and marketed product after product as low fat. If it says low fat on it, it must be healthy, right? WRONG! For example, some yoghurts are marketed as low fat but contain lots of sugar (the pot says 'low fat' and shows a slim child and we all naturally think of health. Why don't they tell the truth and say 'low in fat but unfortunately full of sugar which your body will turn instantly to fat anyway' and show a picture of an overweight child instead?). Is it possibly because it wouldn't sell as many pots?
The truth about fats is that some fats are healthy and indeed essential to your child's body and some are distinctly unhealthy. Saying fat is bad for you is absolute nonsense and if you EVER see anything marketed as low fat, make sure sugar (or fructose etc.) is not high on the ingredient list as it often is. 'Low fat' can sometimes be a marketing angle smokescreen for high sugar, but obviously not always, so it pays to check!
It is recommended that your child eats certain types of healthy fats so that fat can be burnt effectively by their metabolism. Countless studies have indicated children who eat good sources of fat regularly tend to be leaner. Good fat sources tend to help your child to absorb key minerals and vitamins which are essential to their healthy growth too.
The main point to remember about fats is not for your child to avoid them but instead to insist they eat the correct types of fats in approximately the recommended quantities. Healthy fat sources are typically found in avocados, nuts, olives and olive oil, whole milk and red meat.
Types of Fats
In reality most sources of fats will be a mixture of fats so it best to make sure the foods you eat are much higher in the healthier rather than the unhealthier types. The only practical way to do this is to eat fresh food as much as possible but if you must eat prepared/processed food then read the labels on it and get to know which products are healthier and which aren't.
Mono-unsaturated fats are the healthiest fats for your child to eat. These fats exist in seed and oat as well as olives and fish. Mono unsaturated fats helps people from overeating by making the stomach feel full. Olive oil is about 75% monounsaturated fat and if cooked at normal temperatures it is an excellent source of good fats. At higher cooking temperatures it can break down into bad fats so avoid this.
Polyunsaturated fats are ok in moderation and opinion is divided as to whether they are good or bad. It is probably best to assume they are somewhere in the middle. Some reports have linked these to heart disease.
Trans-fats (hydrogenated fats) are the worst type of fat and have been linked to cancer so please read the labels and avoid allowing your children and family eating these.
The other 'Bad' fats are saturated fats. These types of fats must be minimised. They are found in many fast food and convenience items like cakes, pizzas, fried burgers, cakes, biscuits and deep-fried foods. By making a reduction in your saturated fat intake you make really make a great impact on your waistline. The following tips may help:
Practical Measures to reduce Saturated Fat Intake
- Check food labels religiously. Saturated fat levels are one of the key factors you must look for (but by no means the only one). You need to go for foods with relatively low levels (this is typically lower than 1.5g saturated fat per 100g of food).
- Do not use butter, lard or ghee to cook with and instead choose healthier options e.g. sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, olive oil etc.
- Always take off skin from chicken and turkey and trim the fat from meats
- The healthiest cooking options are to use fresh ingredients and boil, grill, steam or stir fry.
- Lean cuts of meat should be chosen over processed meats (e.g. burgers, sausages etc.) every time
- Have fresh fruit instead of a sugary dessert
- Choose low fat food as long as it isn't high in sugar. Many foods marketed as 'low fat' have very high sugar contents. The sugar converts to fat in the body so the 'low fat' claim is ridiculous and deceiving in this case.
Children who eat good fats as part of a balanced diet will be healthier than those that don't. Good fats are present in many healthy foods like olives and nuts and should be encouraged. Low fat food is good for your children ONLY if it is also low sugar (the human body converts a large percentage of processed sugar to fat anyway so some low fat foods can put weight on your child in the same way candy does). Minimise saturated fats in your child's diets by cutting out too many fast food and convenience foods. Avoid all sources of trans-fats / hydrogenated fats. Eat fresh wherever possible.
This great resource shows you which good foods can be substituted for bad foods to help try to reduce saturated fat.
A 'fats' guide from the American Heart Association giving you the low-down on fats and typical fat contents of various common foods. Obviously be aware that some fats are actually healthy for you whereas some types of fats are not - so this document only gives part of the information.
The Fact Sheet tells you all about the main 4 types of fat and recommended Daily Limits. All of the information is designed to be user friendly in a handy table.