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 and cancer. The American Heart Association, or 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.
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.
Both children and teenagers need calories and nutrients to ensure proper growth and development. Proper growth and development can still occur even when monitoring the amount of fat children have in their diet. A recent study looked at children who were on a diet of 30% fat for the first 5 years of life. These children had normal development and good nutritional status. Another study reported on a group of children 8 to 10 years old who were on a low-fat diet for 3 years. The diet contained 28% fat, with less than 8% from saturated fat. The children maintained adequate growth and mental health. They had enough iron and other nutrients in their diet. In addition, their LDL levels dropped.
The American Heart Association dietary guidelines have been established for healthy Americans and children over the age of 2. Therefore, 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.
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.
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.
Choose margarines with liquid vegetable oil listed as the first ingredient. Check the Nutrition Facts to see if one tablespoon has 2 or less grams of saturated fat.