When most of us hear fats, we have visions of oily food and obesity. The conversation around fat is mostly fuelled by here-say and outdated research. However, modern research has established that fat, the good ones, should be an essential part of our diet, especially that of a fast-growing baby and toddler. Apart from providing energy and satisfaction, there are multitude of benefits of fats for growing children.
There are 3 main categories of fat, not all of which are healthy. Read on to find of which fats should your baby and toddler be eating:
These fats are the healthiest of all and include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They increase the HDL or ‘Good Cholesterol’ in the blood and decrease the risk of heart disease.
Some good sources of unsaturated fats include salmon, nuts and seeds, canola oil, olive oil, and avocados.
Also read: Benefits Of Healthy Fats For Toddlers
Saturated fats are found mostly in meat and animal products. They are added to packaged foods to increase their shelf life and make them tastier. They increase the LDL or Bad cholesterol in the blood and may lead to heart disease.
Sources of saturated fats include cheese, margarine, butter and fatty cuts of meat.
These are least healthy of all fats as they not only raise the LDL or ‘Bad Cholesterol’ but also decrease the HDL or ‘Good Cholesterol’ in the blood leading to heart disease. These are the ones which give baked goods that ‘melt in your mouth’ taste and also increase the shelf life of packaged food.
Sources of trans fats include deep-fried fast foods and packed foods like cookies, waffles, donuts, and namkeens.
Fats are vital to the brain, which itself is made of about 70% fat. Omega-3 fats especially play an important role in a baby and toddler’s brain development and function. Research has also indicated that children of school-going age whose diets had adequate amounts of Omega-3 fats had better reading abilities, fewer mental health problems and even improved sleep patterns.
Fats are a vital part of the membrane that surrounds each cell of the body. Without a healthy cell membrane, the rest of the cell couldn’t function. Many of the vital organs, especially the kidneys, heart, and intestines are cushioned by fat that helps protect them from injury and hold them in place. This protective layer of fat around organs is what is used up last when the body is starving and its energy reserves are being used up.
One of the most important benefits of fats is that it is important for eye health. According to researchers, DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid) is found in the highest concentrations in the retina and optimal omega-3 intake is required for eye health and vision development. A breastfeeding baby gets Omega-3 fats from a well-nourished mother’s milk. For babies and toddlers who have been weaned, the right diet will provide the right fats for vision development.
Fats is used in the body as fuel and help the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E, and K. Many low-fat diets are therefore low in these vitamins and also zinc as the body is not able to absorb these without the presence of fat. Zinc is essential to the growth and proper functioning of the immune system.
Fats make some of the most important substances in the body, including prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that regulate many of the body’s functions. Fats regulate the production of sex hormones, which is why some teenage girls who are too lean experience delayed puberty or amenorrhea (missed periods). Getting the right fats in your child’s diet will, therefore, help in your child’s timely hormonal development.
For your baby or toddler, fat is an especially important nutrient. Your child’s rapid growth requires a large number of calories in proportion to his growing body size, and fat provides more than twice the calories per gram than proteins and carbohydrates.
Research has indicated a strong link between unhealthy saturated fat and diabetes. A diet rich in saturated fat leads to insulin resistance and fatty liver disease, both of which are linked to diabetes. On the other hand, research shows that eating a diet with healthy dairy fat like non-processed cheese and low-fat milk is associated with a lower occurrence of diabetes.
Fat gives food a rich, creamy flavour and helps people feel full so they are less likely to overeat. Babies and toddlers with their fast developing taste buds and food preferences show a preference for fatty foods and childhood might be a good time to introduce them to the right fats – like the richness of salmon or the creaminess of avocado.
One of the most surprising benefits of fats is that of improving a child’s mood. It is widely known that Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the well-being of your kid’s mental health and also to maintain his happy and balanced mood. Targeted nutrients which include fats have shown a positive effect on the mood and behaviour of children.
It is time for parents to stop regarding all fats as unhealthy and see their importance in their baby’s and toddler’s diet. The idea is to choose the fats wisely and get your children the taste of the right fats early on. Once your children start appreciating the taste of good fats, they will naturally pick avocados over cookies or homemade almond butter over the store-bought jams and jellies.
Also read: Benefits Of Olive Oil During Pregnancy
Want to share your experience as a mom with other moms through words or images? Become a part of the Moms United community. Click here and we will get in touch with you.