Not all fats are made equal. Did you know that some types of fats are essential for good health?
While fats are often given a bad rap, there are some fats that our bodies absolutely need to survive.
What are fats?
Dietary fats come in all different shapes and sizes. Some types of fats are considered healthier than others, and are required for good health. Other types of fats are not required to make up a balanced diet.
Unsaturated fats are considered the “healthy” fats. This includes Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats. These fats can improve our heart health, and for children, reduces the risk of heart disease later in life.
Sources of unsaturated fats include:
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines)
- Nuts and seeds
A healthy unsaturated fat includes the Omega-3 fatty acids which helps to boost mood and cognition. The human body does not make Omega-3, so this is an essential fat that we need to get from the food we eat. Foods that are great sources of Omega-3 include nuts, walnuts especially, flax seeds, leafy vegetables and fish. Some of the highest Omega 3 content in seafood are found in salmon, anchovies, mussels and sardines. While omega-3 fats are good for brain health, the biggest benefit is on heart disease and lowering blood pressure.
It is encouraged that we incorporate healthy fats into our children’s diet on a regular basis.
Saturated and Trans Fats
Saturated and trans fats are the more “unhealthy” fats. When consumed in large amounts, these fats can increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease later in life.
Sources of saturated fats include:
- Red meat
- Dairy foods (cheese, cream, butter, ice cream)
- Coconut and palm oil
It is not encouraged for children to cut out these foods altogether, as meats and dairy are very nutritious when eaten in moderation.
Sources of trans fats include:
- Commercially baked goods such as cakes and biscuits
- Fried foods such as donuts and fries
- “Fast foods” such as pizza and pies
It is recommended to limit the amount of trans fats children consume, and replace these with healthy fats where possible. Trans fats are not required for a healthy, balanced diet.
Why are healthy fats important?
We know that healthy fats play an important role in heart health and reducing the risk of heart disease later in life. However, healthy fats also help to absorb some vitamins, help growing bodies produce hormones and play a role in eye, skin and brain development.
For these reasons, consuming healthy fats is important for people of all ages – children included!
However, it is important to remember that although some fats are much more nutritious than others, all fats are very energy (kJ) dense. When eaten in large amounts, all fats can contribute to weight gain.
Cooking with oils
Cooking with heart-healthy oils is a good way to replace unhealthy fats in our children’s diet. Some ideas to increase healthy fats include:
- Grilling lean meats in a drizzle of olive oil, rather than serving processed meats such as sausage rolls or hot dogs
- Using avocado oil to stir fry vegetables in place of serving French fries
- Baking chicken with a drizzle of canola oil rather than serving deep fried chicken
Limiting unhealthy fats
Some other easy ways to reduce the saturated and trans fat intake of our children includes:
- Trimming the visible fat off meat
- Considering swapping to low fat milk (if appropriate), but not before the age of 2
- Replacing butter with other heart-healthy spreads, such as avocado, hummus or olive oil
- Limiting intake of commercially baked goods such as cakes and biscuits
Healthy fats make up a very important part of a well-balanced diet. Fats should not be feared, and are needed for good health! It is important to recognise that unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated and trans fats. Remember that all fats are high in energy and can contribute to weight gain when consumed in excess.
Written by the OSCAR Care Group Dietetic Team
For would like personalised Dietetic information, please contact OSCAR Care Group for further support from one of our Accredited Practising Dietitians.