Baby and toddler meals need to be energy dense to support them as they grow and develop. Because it can be quite a challenge to get enough calories into those little tummies, healthy fats are a fundamental of children’s food. So, there you have it, no low-fat products for children under two, although from the age of two semi-skimmed (not skimmed!) dairy may be introduced if your child is growing well and is a good eater.
Fat plays an important role in long-term energy storage and these reserves come really handy when young children are off their food because of sickness or teething.
And just in case you weren’t convinced of the importance of fats in your children’s diet, did you know that fats are also used to carry fat-soluble vitamins (beta-carotene, vitamin A, D, E and K) into the cells. So, next time you eat carrots dip them in a little bit of hummus to ensure all that beta-carote is absorbed!
But…what kind of fat?
The thing is that not all fats are equal. Saturated fats can contribute to inflammation and worsen reflux symptoms as these fats relax the lower oesophageal sphincter. Saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. However, foods high in saturated fats can provide important nutrients like iron in red meat and calcium in full-fat yogurt, so it is important not to completely avoid them.
So, what fats are best for baby? Well, a good mix of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated is the best approach to adding fats to your little one’s diet.
Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fats from oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies and from vegan sources like flax and chia seeds support brain development and eye health and are also a good source of protein and fibre to avoid constipation. Omega-3 fats also have anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce the severity of infant eczema and can increase nutrient absorption into the cells as they promote membrane fluidity.
Mono-unsaturated fats like those in sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds as well as almonds, olive oil and avocados have anti-inflammatory properties too.
Now, the fats we should all avoid…
Processed fats like those in ham, bacon and other cured meats are mostly saturated but also contain nitrites that can react to form nitrosamines which when heated at high temperatures (yes, I’m talking about that tasty grilled bacon) can be carcinogenic so best to avoid, especially for young children.
Trans-fats like those found in industrial baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries and even ready to eat pizzas) have been linked to inflammation and obesity as well as cancer so best to be avoided by all! Our advice is to bake your own biscuits and make pizza with the kids: it’s messy but fun, and of course way tastier and much healthier!
What fats are best for cooking?
We often get asked the question of what fats to cook with. And the answer is quite straight forward: first, check the smoke point (needs to be high for frying and roasting, ideally above 180C) and second, check the fat profile (the more omega-3 the better!).
So, extra-virgin olive oil has a great fat profile but it has a low smoke point so avoid cooking with it at high temperatures and use raw on salads and dips. Butter is high in saturated fat and has a low smoke point of 160C so best to use sparingly on toast, not to fry your fish! For cooking we recommend refined olive oil and rapeseed oil because their high smoke points make them resistant to high temperatures and because their fats profiles are better than other oils. Coconut oil has a relative low smoke point and is high in saturated fats so we save it for curries and energy balls when the flavour suits the dish!
Written by Purple Carrot Nutrition: https://purplecarrotnutrition.co.uk/