Did you know that the current generation of young people is the first that can expect to live shorter lives than their parents? Scary right? The greatest legacy any parent can give their child is good health, which starts with proper nutrition. In our recent series on Kid’s Nutrition, we’ve explored the importance of providing your child with balanced meals and snacks that not only support mental and physical well-being but also help balance blood sugar, stabilise energy levels and moods.
We’ve exposed the truth about carbs – that they’re not all bad; and the power of protein for your child’s growth and development. Now, we look at what’s almost become a four-letter word, FATS. Fats have such a bad name when it comes to diets but are an important component of your child’s nutrition.
The optimal amount of overall fat in a child’s diet should account for 20% of all calories. The key word being ‘overall’ and, with there being three types of fats, this is where it can get confusing.
The good, the ok and the ugly
To break it down, these are three types of fats out there:
The good: Polyunsaturated oils from seeds, nuts and oily fish – aka Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats. Olive oil also fits in to this category when eaten raw and in its natural state but is not quite in the same league as the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats.
These are considered essential fats for their ability to help children stay physically healthy as well as maximise your child’s mental, emotional and physical intelligence. A deficiency in essential fats can lead to learning difficulties and behavioural instability. The good news is that it is never too late to boost your child’s levels of essential fats.
The anti-inflammatory and immune-supportive properties of these good fats can also reduce the risk of allergies, asthma, eczema and infections and keep your child ‘well-oiled’ by contributing to soft, smooth skin and silky, glossy hair.
While it seems such a simple thing, upping your child’s essential fat intake can have profound benefits on their overall health. Essential fats should account for at least a third of your child’s overall fat intake, providing a balance of both Omega-3 and Omega-6.
The ok: Strictly speaking saturated fats from meat, dairy, coconut oil and avocado are not necessarily bad for your child, unless eaten in excess. Whilst it is true that if you eat too much fat, you are likely to gain weight, the biggest culprit of overweight children is likely to be sugar and trans fats found in processed and fried foods.
The key is to fry food at the lowest possible temperature and fry in butter or virgin coconut oil.
Children, in particular, need some of this fat in their daily diet, partly for use as energy and partly to be incorporated into their bodies as they grow. Saturated fat is not technically essential in the diet because the body can manufacture what it needs from the essential fats it consumes. But there is merit in these ‘fatty’ foods because they provide fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D and E.
These fats should account for no more than a third of your child’s overall fat intake.
The ugly: Trans fats found in processed and fried foods are the worst fats your child can eat. So bad, in fact, that they have been banned in Scandinavian countries for some years now and in the US and Canada, they must be declared on food labels.
The ideal amount of trans fats your child should have is zero.
Trans fats have been found to be a contributing factor to heart disease and a leading cause of obesity. They also block the conversion of essential fats into vital brain fats.
To put you in the picture, a serving of chips or fried fish can deliver 8g of trans fat, a doughnut 12g and a packet of chips, more than 4g.
But without any declaration of trans fats on food labels, it is difficult to identify the danger foods and, let’s face it, who has time to read the labels on every item you’re thinking about putting in your trolley anyway? To help you avoid unknowingly buying food items containing trans fats always remember that trans fats rarely occur in natural foods – when they do, they are relatively harmless and in minuscule amounts. Trans fats are created when food is fried, especially deep-friend and often in the processing or preserving of food. Limiting your child’s consumption of fried and processed food will cut most of these ‘ugly’ fats out of their diet.
And finally…we need to talk about eggs
Eggs, like ‘fats’, have also almost become a four-letter word because of a misconception about their high fat and cholesterol content. In-fact, an egg is as healthy as the hen that laid it so try opt for free-range, organic eggs, high in Omega-3s. The cholesterol association with eggs is simply a myth. Not to mention that a moderate amount of cholesterol in the diet is perfectly acceptable and even necessary, especially for children. Cholesterol is used to make the body’s hormones and is an important component of cell membranes. How good or bad it is depends on how it is cooked – anything overcooked, fried or burnt is bad for you. A boiled, poached or gently scrambled egg is a veritable superfood and you can safely feed your child six to ten eggs a week.