It can be very confusing for a first-time parent who’s grown up believing that fat should be avoided, to now understand that children need healthy fats for proper nerve, brain and skin cell function, as well as to protect their vital organs and to help control body temperature.
In fact, I’m so passionate about this topic, that I dedicated a whole chapter in my book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” to healthy fats, along with a host of nutritious recipe ideas.
The role of healthy fats in the body.
Fat supplies us with essential fatty acids that we can’t manufacture ourselves and helps our bodies absorb vitamins A, D, E and K from food. They also affect the production of hormones, regulate blood sugar and provide us with energy.
Fats with proven health benefits include both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (omega 6’s and omega 3’s). But, unfortunately at the other end of the scale are unnatural trans fats – the actively bad fats with no nutritional content which have even been proven to cause disease.
Saturated fats however, sit in between. In moderation, and when obtained from whole food sources such as grass-fed beef, coconut oil and high-quality dairy products, saturated fats can prove to be a beneficial part of a balanced diet and ensure proper brain health, nerve function and cell membrane health, not to mention they also help growing children feel satiated.
There’s an ongoing debate about the optimal fat intake, and while research is still continuing, it’s been accepted that “good” fats are important for all of us – especially growing children who need all the nutrients healthy fats contain.
One of the easiest ways to add some healthy fats to your family’s diet is to cook with high quality oils like cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed avocado oil or coconut oil which are perfect to cook with over a medium-low heat, or even opt for cold-pressed macadamia oil if you’re cooking on a high heat.
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Here is a quick glance guide to our favourite fats:
These are the fats associated with the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. They reduce bad cholesterol, lower the risk of heart disease, normalise insulin levels and stabilise blood sugar levels. Some excellent sources include: avocado, extra virgin cold-pressed avocado oil, olives, extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil, macadamia nuts, extra virgin cold-pressed macadamia oil.
These are also known as essential fatty acids because they are essential to vital biological processes in the body. We aren’t able to manufacture them ourselves, so it’s important to include them in the diet to reduce bad cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Deficiency can cause dry skin, eczema, lethargy, weakened immune system, hormonal imbalances and depression.
A lack of these fats can also impact performance on reading tests and working memory and may add to symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Best sources include: oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, egg yolks and dark green leafy vegetables. Ensuring your meat is grass fed and grass finished (ie. not grain fed just prior be being slaughtered) will help too.
As with omega-3s, our bodies are unable to make this essential fatty acid and consuming it in the right quantity can help to protect against heart disease, eczema, ADHD and certain allergies. Brilliant sources include: meat, poultry, eggs, sesame seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, linseed, green leafy vegetables, borage and evening primrose oils.