Healthy fats for kids: Best sources and how much your child needs
The topic of dietary fats can be a challenging topic for many parents. To start, there’s the negative connotation of the word “fat” that has been ingrained in our culture for such a long time. Additionally, many of us grew up on the tails of the “fat-free” movement, which villainized fat in just about everything. As nutrition is an evolving science, we now know fat is essential to our health and well-being, especially for growing kids! We also know all fat is not created equal. Keep reading to learn how to choose healthful fats for your family.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
What are healthy fats?
Fats are one of the three macronutrients, or components of food that provide us energy. Fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient and provides us with the most energy per gram. Additionally, it is the macronutrient that takes the longest to digest. This means fat helps us feel full and keeps us feeling full for a while after eating it. Fat is also highly palatable making our foods taste delicious.
There are different types of fats and they offer different benefits and risks for our health. A breakdown of the most common fats are below. Most foods, however, contain a combination of fats and are categorized based on which fat they have the most.
Polyunsaturated fats are health-benefiting fats found in plant foods and some fish. They are typically liquid at room temperature and have been associated with improving heart health by lowering bad cholesterol levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids, a specific type of polyunsaturated fats, are particularly beneficial for heart health and cognitive development. They are found in fatty fish, walnuts, chia, and flax seeds.
Monounsaturated fats are also healthy fats found to help reduce the risk of heart disease. They can be found in foods such as olive oil, avocados as well as some nuts.
Saturated fats should be consumed in moderation as eating too many saturated fats may increase the risk of heart disease. They are typically found in animal foods such as meat and dairy products. Many packaged and fast foods contain saturated fats as well.
Trans fat occurs in foods when unsaturated fats are chemically altered to create a more stable saturated fat. They are typically found in packaged foods and fried foods. However, due to their association with health risks, many food manufacturers have eliminated trans fats from their foods.
Why healthy fats are important for children
Fat plays an important role in optimal growth and development for young children. It is especially important for their brain and nervous system development. Additionally, fat provides the body with energy, protects our organs, and helps to regulate body temperature. Fat is also important, and needed, to absorb some vitamins and produce hormones.
How much fat should kids get?
As a general rule, kids need more fat in their diet than adults. This is because it contributes so much to growth and development. Children ages 1 - 3 years old should consume about 30 - 40% of their total energy intake from fat and kids 4 - 18 years old should consume about 25 - 35% of their calories from fat . There is no set recommendation for children under 1 year old, but fat should not be limited in this age group as it plays such an important role in brain development.
Fat sources your child could eat
When it comes to kids, remember you don’t need to fear fat! Focus on serving a variety of fats, with an emphasis on healthy fats. Some ideas for incorporating fat into your family’s diet are below:
Cook with olive oil or other plant oils
Add avocados to sandwiches, tacos, or toast
Serve eggs in a variety of ways for meals and snacks
Top plain pasta or grains with olive oil or butter
Add butter or oil to steamed veggies
Serve whole milk yogurt as a snack or for breakfast
Include nuts and seeds as a snack
Eat fish and seafood 1 - 2 times a week
Healthy fats FAQ
Q: What are good fats for kids?
Kids benefit from a variety of fats in their diet. Choose whole food sources of fats over processed or fast food sources. These foods include both animal- and plant-based foods such as eggs, yogurt, fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
Q: How can I add fat to my child's diet?
Adding fat to your child’s diet can be easy with a few simple tweaks. Serve full-fat or whole-milk dairy products, cook vegetables in olive oil or other plant oils, and include nuts and seeds in meals and snacks. Additionally, you could offer dips for fruits and vegetables such as a yogurt dip, guacamole, or hummus.
Q: What are the top 5 healthiest fats to eat?
In general, unsaturated fats are the healthiest choices when it comes to fat. These include plant and vegetable oils, olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Q: What are the safest fats?
Ideally, many of the fats in your child’s diet will be unsaturated as these are beneficial for heart health. These include foods like olive oil, nuts, avocados as well as fatty fish. Whole food saturated fats such as eggs and full-fat yogurt are beneficial in a child’s diet as well.
Q: What happens if a child has too little fat?
Growth and development will be impacted if a child has too little fat in their diet. Brain development is likely to be affected as well as overall size. They may also have trouble regulating their body temperature or not be able to produce hormones as they should.
Q: What is a healthy fat for breakfast?
Adding healthy fats to breakfast can help keep your child full longer as well as help to keep their blood sugar levels balanced. And there are lots of kid-friendly choices! Try eggs, avocado toast, whole milk yogurt, or nut butter mixed in with oatmeal.
Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, December 2020. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf