Fat is a key macronutrient needed for growth and development (there are three macronutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrates).
Your child is in a state of rapid development and they need ample supply of good, nourishing fat, supplying the whole spectrum of healthy fatty acids.
But some fats are health-boosting for our kids while others are health-busting. This blog will explain the difference and outline for you which to put in your kitchen, which to avoid, and how to store them.
Health-Boosting / Health-Busting Fats
Health-building fats support the brain, hormones, cell formation, immune function, heart and mood. Fat is also needed for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E and K and also calcium, making it key for healthy bones and teeth.
Health-boosting fats come from:
Health-busting fats pretty much bust all the things health-boosting fats boost - brain, hormones, cellular integrity, immune system, heart health, and moods.
Health-busting fats come from:
As a general rule, the fats from whole foods that are the least processed will be the healthiest for you.
But you already knew that, didn't you? Let's get specific.
There are loads of choices when it comes to fats and oils, but I'm all about keeping things simple. If you stick with these you'll cover the variety or saturated, mono unsaturated and poly unsaturated fatty acids your child needs to grow:
For higher heat cooking and baking:
Alternate between Coconut Oil, Organic butter (if tolerated), Ghee, Red Palm Oil.
These are higher in saturated fats, making them more stable for heat, but they also contain monounsaturated fats.
You can also use small amounts of avocado oil, sunflower seed oil, rice bran oil which are deemed safe for heating but are higher in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats than saturated.
Camelina oil has been gaining popularity lately. It is a seed oil, related to the mustard family. It is a cold pressed oil produced in Canada and the extraction process uses no hexane or other solvents. It is naturally high in Omega 3s, which usually would mean you should not heat it, but the natural vitamin E content and the unique fatty acid profile give it a high smoke point and protect it from oxidation making it a suitable cooking oil.
For Drizzling on top of foods:
Use primarily virgin olive oil.
You can also use some sesame oil, flax oil, walnut oil, camelina oil.
These will give you monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. While olive and sesame oil can be heated on low heat, keeping them raw will ensure all the nutrients in them remain intact.
As a supplement:
You might need to try fish oil or algae oil or cod liver oil, depending on your diet and body, for sufficient omega 3 fatty acids. These oils should never be heated and need to be stored in the fridge to prevent rancidity.
Quality is important when it comes to fats and oils
When choosing fat from an animal (butter, for example), it's best to choose organic when possible. Chemicals and metals (like lead and mercury and cadmium) are often stored in fat so the healthier an animal was during its life, the better quality fat it will have.
When it comes to oils, choose a “virgin” oil when possible. The word “virgin” is used to indicate minimal processing and no use of solvents in the extraction process.
Here's what the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius says about the term "virgin" as it pertains to oil: “Virgin fats and oils are edible vegetable fats, and oils obtained, without altering the nature of the oil, by mechanical procedures, e.g., expelling or pressing, and the application of heat only. They may be purified by washing with water, settling, filtering and centrifuging only.”
Not only is a virgin oil more likely to contain less solvent residue, but the minimal processing also helps to maintain the quality of delicate fat molecules and their antioxidants.
When it comes to supplements like fish oil, be sure it comes from a reputable company and has been filtered for toxins and contaminants.
How Much Fat Is Enough?
Your child is growing steadily. Fat is needed for the integrity of the cellular membrane. It is also used as a building block for hormone production. Not to mention, nearly 60% of the brain is fat.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that kids ages 4 and up get 25 to 35 percent of their daily calories from fat (a little higher for younger children). So that's about 30-50g a day, depending on how much your child eats.
Here's what I suggest. Initially work towards getting about 8-10 teaspoons total of these fats into your child daily (not including supplements). Alternate amongst the ones listed above to make sure all the types of fatty acids are covered - mono unsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. Use them to cook with, drizzle them on top of foods, and mix them into foods. This will bring in about 32-40g of fat.
If your child is struggling to self regulate or has known deficiencies they might need more. But use this a as a starting point.
If your child gets constipated or feels nauseous with this higher fat intake visit a practitioner to get some advice on digestive support. It is not uncommon for kids who struggle with learning and behaviour to have trouble digesting fats. It's an important issue to resolve.
FATS TO AVOID
Don’t forget, we’re not just talking about what you're using in your home cooking. We also should look at the processed foods that contain fat.
Look through your cupboards at food labels. You want to avoid packaged foods that contain “vegetable oil”, corn oil, canola oil, palm kernel oil, soy oil, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, or esterified oils.
There is much controversy over plant oils like canola and safflower oils. For the population I work with mostly - children who struggle with self regulation - I suggest avoiding these oils because they are not as helpful for brain health as the other oils listed.
Heat, light, and oxygen make oils go rancid. Store your cooking oils in a cool, dark place like the fridge or a cool cupboard.
Healthy Mayonnaise Recipe
Makes about 1 ½ cups
1 large or extra large egg
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic
1 cup olive or avocado oil
Add all ingredients except oil to your food processor. Process until creamy (about 10 seconds).
With the food processor running, add a few drops of oil into the egg mixture. Every few seconds add a few more drops. Continue until the mixture starts to thicken.
Now you can do a slow drizzle. Stop pouring, every once in a while checking that the oil gets fully incorporated.
Store leftovers in a covered container in the fridge for up to 1-2 weeks.
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Jess is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist™ and Family Health Expert, specializing in brain health & resilience for kids. She is the author of Raising Resilience: Take the stress out of feeding your family & love your life, a mother and an advocate for children’s health. Her book and online resources have helped families all over the world improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, autism and mood disorders by fitting the food and feeding piece into their health puzzles. She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work helping families get healthier, and she continues to work at bringing an understanding of the power of good nutrition to the mainstream conversation about children’s mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses and as a contributor to print and online magazines. You can reach Jess at www.jesssherman.com
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