Why are some fats “good” while others are “bad”?
Your child’s body actually needs a certain amount and type of fat in his or her diet to absorb some nutrients and for good health. For example, vitamins A, D, E and K are “fat-soluble.” This means they require fat to be absorbed by the body. Fats also are helpful because they provide a sense of fullness or “satiety.” Children under 2 years old are still developing their brain and nervous system, and some fats are important for this process. This is why children under 2 should not drink low-fat (1%) or skim milk.
Certain fats (the so-called “good fats”) can help lower total cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially beneficial. They seem to decrease certain risk factors for heart disease.
But eating too much fat, and especially certain types of fat, can lead to high cholesterol levels, overweight and obesity. These conditions can lead to a number of other health problems as your child grows into an adult, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and many others.
How much fat in the diet is okay?
The American Heart Association provides these fat guidelines for healthy American children and adults 2 years of age and older:
- Limit total fat intake to less than 25% to 35% of total calories per day.
- Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7% of total calories per day.
- Limit trans fat intake to less than 1% of total calories per day.
- Remaining fat should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils.
- Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day for most people; if heart disease is present or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels are over 100 mg/dL or greater, limit cholesterol intake to less than 200 milligrams a day.
How can I tell if a food has too much fat or a “bad” fat?
For packaged food, you can read the Nutrition Facts Label to find out what the food contains, including how much total fat, saturated fat and trans fat.
Sources of Good Fats
- Monounsaturated fats are found in canola, olive, avocado, and peanut and other nut oils, as well as in legumes (dried beans and peas), olives, seeds, nuts, nut butters and fresh avocados.
- Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower and safflower oil, as well as sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, corn, soybeans, and many other kinds of grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are usually found in seafood, including salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel. They can also be found in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and walnuts.
Sources of Bad Fats
- Saturated fats are usually found in animal products such as meat, poultry and eggs, and dairy products such as cheese, cream and whole or 2% milk. Palm, coconut and other tropical oils, as well as cocoa butter, also contain saturated fat. Many snack foods, such as desserts, chips and French fries, are high in saturated fat.
- Hydrogenated fats are common in margarine and shortening.
- Trans fats, a type of man-made partially hydrogenated fat, are usually found in processed foods, such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts, crackers, snacks and frozen foods, and in fried foods, such as French fries and onion rings.