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Healthy Weight Series: Fats in Food

fats in food

Come out, come out, wherever you are!  Looking for fats in food isn’t always easy! Sometimes choosing foods with healthy amounts of fat can seem like a game of hide and seek.  While some sources are obvious, fats in food can be hiding undetected in some of your child’s favorite foods. 

Fats in Food and Weight Status

Research shows that dietary fat intake is associated with a higher incidence of unhealthy weight in children, and many children and teens consume more fat than recommended for health.  With a few simple tips, anyone can uncover fat’s favorite hot spots and reduce the fats in food they consume. 

The Skinny on Fats 

Fat is a valuable part of your child’s health. It provides essential fatty acids (those not made by the body), carries fat- soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), and are a concentrated energy (calorie) source.

However, gram for gram, fat supplies more than double the calories of carbohydrates and protein.  Translated:  A diet rich in fat tends to be high in calories and can promote weight gain.  Be thoughtful and selective when choosing the amounts and types of fat for your child’s diet.

Deciphering the Different Fats in Food

Unsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans-saturated fats, are the main type of fats you’ll find in food. Many foods naturally contain fat, such as meats or dairy products. However, the amount and type found in each food can vary. 

Fruits, vegetables, and grains naturally contain minimal fat. Dairy products, meats, nuts, and convenience foods tend to have a higher fat content.

Not all fats are created equal–the type of fat your child eats can be a healthy influence on his diet, or not.  Look below for sources of healthy fats to emphasize in your child’s diet and sources to minimize.

Emphasize: Mono-unsaturated fats in food

  • olive, canola, and nut oils
  • avocados, olives, almonds, and peanut butter

EmphasizePoly-unsaturated fats in food

  • fish
  • sunflower seeds
  • most nuts
  • corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean and sesame oils.

Minimize: Saturated fats in food

  • meat (trim fat and choose lean cuts)
  • poultry (remove skin)
  • whole-milk dairy products (choose low-fat or fat-free)
  • butter, shortening, lard, and palm and coconut oils

Minimize: Trans-saturated fats in food

Know Your Child’s Fat Requirements

Young children (2-3 years) need about 30-35% of their total calories from fat and older children (up to age 18 years) need anywhere from 25-35% of calories for normal growth and development.  An exception is made for infants, who need an even higher fat content in their diet for normal brain development. 

You don’t have to be a mathematician to make healthy choices for your child.  Read the Nutrition Facts Panel on food packages– there you will find the percentage of calories from fat, the amounts of healthy and unhealthy fats in the product, and an ingredient list for the product recipe.  

The ingredient label on the package lists the food ingredients in descending order of weight. A good rule of thumb: Limit eating foods which get a lot of calories from fat.  And, as always, pay attention to serving sizes.

Fat can be a normal and healthy part of every child’s diet.  But too much fat can lead to excessive calories and weight gain. 

Tips for curbing High Fat Foods:

  1. Cut back on foods known to be high in fat, as this will cut your overall fat intake. For kids, these tend to be french fries, fried foods, desserts, whole milk dairy products, convenience foods, and candy. 
  2. Choose healthier fats (mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats) most of the time. 
  3. Serve sauces, gravies, and dressings as a side condiment. 
  4. Don’t fall into the french fry trap—baked, roasted, and mashed potatoes are satisfying alternatives. 
  5. Out with the butter, in with the olive oil:  make healthy fat substitutions when cooking, baking, and eating. 
  6. Be an informed consumer, read labels!

Focus on finding the excess fat in your child’s diet, cut back and substitute healthier fats.  Your child’s healthy weight will love it!

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