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Low-fat Diet And Children

Low-fat Diet And Children


Diets high in fat, especially saturated fat, are linked to high blood cholesterol levels and heart disease. High-fat diets can also increase risk for obesity, early cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The American Heart Association (AHA), has issued dietary guidelines for healthy adults and children over 2 years of age. The guidelines recommend choosing a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

In what food source is the nutrient found?

Saturated fat is found primarily in animal foods. Most unsaturated fats come from plant sources. Foods that are low in fat or fat-free include:
  • fruits
  • low-fat and nonfat dairy products
  • many grains
  • vegetables

How does the nutrient affect the body?

Fat is needed by the body in small amounts for important functions. Fat in a child's diet supplies essential fatty acids, or EFAs. These EFAs play a key role in the functioning of the brain, eyes and nervous system. Fat also provides calories for growth. It carries and stores fat-soluble vitamins.
Some dietary fats are healthier than others. Saturated fat and trans fats also raise total cholesterol and LDL, known as "bad" or "lethal" cholesterol. Trans fats are found in french fries, donuts, and crackers as a result of adding hydrogen to vegetables oils. Dietary cholesterol does raise LDL cholesterol, but not as much as saturated fat and trans fat. High total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels are major risk factors for heart disease. Unsaturated fats can lower blood cholesterol levels when they replace saturated fats.


Until age 2, infants and toddlers need a diet that provides 40% to 50% of calories from fat. Parents should not restrict the amount of fat their child gets at this age. Breast milk, infant formulas, and whole cow's milk contain approximately 50% of calories as fat. However, as children grow into their preschool and school age years, their needs change. By age 5, no more than 30 percent of a child's calories should come from fat.
The American Heart Association dietary guidelines have been established for healthy Americans and children over the age of 2. Monitoring the amount of fat in children's diets may help prevent the development of certain diseases later in their lives. Starting children on a healthy, low-fat diet can set the stage for healthy eating habits as adults.
Most fruits, vegetables, and grains are naturally low in fat. The primary sources of fat in a child's diet are dairy products, eggs, meats, baked goods, and snack foods. Some recommendations to lower the total fat and saturated fat in a child's diet are:
  • Limit added fats to 5 to 8 teaspoons daily. This would include fats and oils added during cooking and baking. It also refers to what goes on top of foods, including salad dressings on salad and spreads on bread.
  • Increase servings of fruits and vegetables, legumes, soy foods, and whole grains. Legumes include beans and peas. Most plant foods contain unsaturated fats, which are better than saturated fats. Use the food guide pyramid to help determine the right number of servings and the serving sizes (see or
  • Prepare mixed dishes that use pasta, rice, beans and/or vegetables mixed with small amounts of lean meat. These can include stir-fries, chili, spaghetti sauce, soups, and casseroles.
  • Prepare low-fat meatless meals at least once a week. Try using legumes or soy foods as the main part of the meal.
  • Eat smaller portions of lean cuts of meat. These portions should add up to a total of 6 ounces a day. Lean cuts of meat will include the words "loin" or "round" in the name. Examples include sirloin, tenderloin, top round, and ground round. Also, trim any visible fat from meats before cooking. All fat should be removed after browning meat.
  • Use low-fat cooking methods instead of frying. These include baking, boiling, broiling, microwaving, poaching, roasting, or steaming. Use vegetable cooking spray to replace margarine or oil.
  • Add citrus juices, herbs, and spices to add flavor to food without the fat. Decrease the amount of cream and butter sauces.
  • Eat more fish. Each week, include two servings of fish in meals. Good choices include albacore tuna, salmon, lake trout, mackerel, herring, and sardines. Avoid fish high in mercury such as swordfish and shark. If possible consume wild, not farmed, fish.
  • After cooking soups and stews, chill them and then take the fat off the top.
  • Substitute fat-free or low-fat milk, cheeses, and yogurt for their full-fat versions. Try to choose products that contain 1% or less fat.
  • Limit liver, brains, chitterlings, kidney, heart, sweetbreads, and other organ meats.
  • Serve low-fat desserts such as fresh fruit, sherbet, or frozen low-fat yogurt.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts section of food labels for fat content. The amount of saturated fat is required on the nutrition facts panel. Use the 3-gram rule. If a product has 3 grams of fat or less per 100-calorie serving, it counts as a low-fat choice.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts on a food label for percent daily value. Try to select foods with a % Daily Value that is low. In general, a low value is considered having a Daily Value of 5% or less. A high value is considered to be 20% or more.
  • Become familiar with ingredient lists on food labels. Some foods are low in saturated fat but become more saturated during processing. A key word to look for on a label is "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated." This process turns liquid oil into a solid form, making it more saturated. Look for snacks that indicate that they contain zero trans fats.
  • Choose margarines with liquid vegetable oil listed as the first ingredient. Check the Nutrition Facts on the label to see if one tablespoon has 2 or less grams of saturated fat.

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