Associated with unhealthy foods and contributing to diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, fat is often misunderstood. Without fat in their diets, our children couldn’t power through their active lives or effectively absorb vitamins A, D, E and K - essential for the development of your child’s brain and body.
The first step for parents looking to better understand fats is the ability to identify the different types of fats - unsaturated, saturated and trans saturated fats - as some are beneficial for our health.
There are two types of unsaturated fats; polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are known as the healthiest type of fat as they contain omega-3 fatty acids which assist with brain and eye development in infants. Unsaturated fats have also been shown to help improve blood cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes later in life. Good sources of unsaturated fats for children are breast milk, avocado, nuts, green leafy vegetables, oily fish, lean meat and soy products.
Saturated fats are not as healthy as unsaturated fats and should be limited in your child’s diet. This is because saturated fats raise cholesterol levels, which can contribute to health problems and heart disease later in life. Saturated fats are not all bad however, as they raise the LDL or “bad” cholesterol while simultaneously raising HDL or “good” cholesterol. Researchers are currently investigating this relationship, but the current advice is to limit the intake of saturated fats in children and encourage intake of unsaturated fats instead. Saturated fats can be found in foods such as coconut and palm oil, animal products and full-fat dairy products.
Trans fats have no known health benefits and should be reduced in our children’s diets where possible. Trans fats have been shown to raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol and reduce HDL or “good” cholesterol in our blood. Trans fats are mainly found in processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and deep-fried foods.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest that total fat intake for children between 4-9 years should be limited to 30-40 percent of total kilojoules for the day.
Good sources of unsaturated fats that can be regularly included in your child’s diet
Remember to try and include a wide variety of nutritious foods in your child’s diet each day from a variety of all 5 food groups. If you are at all concerned about your child’s health or nutrient requirements contact your health care professional for further advice.