Should Kids Eat Low Fat ?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Question: Are Low Fat Diets Appropriate for Children?

It's obvious, isn't it? Children should be on low fat diets so they don't become overweight. The answer is not that simple.

Answer: Young children need fat in their diets to facilitate proper growth and development. Unless specifically recommended by a child’s doctor or a registered dietitian, children should not eat a strict low fat diet. It is prudent to limit their intake of artery-clogging saturated fats and to avoid heart-harming trans fats, but drinking exclusively fat-free milk and eating fat-free dairy products, especially before the age of two, may cause nutritional deficiencies. Even after the age of two, insufficient fat intake can interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients.

For example, a recent study showed that a group of Nebraska preschool children who ate a low fat diet were deficient in Vitamin E, an important antioxidant that helps protect the body against cell damage. Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin. This means that dietary fat is required for the body to make use of it. Good sources of Vitamin E include fortified cereals, whole grains, nuts, wheat germ, vegetable oils, eggs, avocados and leafy green vegetables.

Some of the children in the study were also deficient in Vitamin C (a water soluble vitamin). While the children’s overall diet may be to blame, it’s unclear whether researchers believe this to be connected to a low intake of fat. Nor is it known if the children in the study were deficient in other fat soluble vitamins, such as Vitamins A, D or K.

In any case, what we should be aiming for is better nutrition overall. Given that almost two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, we should be concerned about what we feed our children. Obesity is not just the result of eating excess fat, it is also the result of consuming excess sugars, and overeating in general. More than any particular dietary approach, what children need is a balanced, nutrient-dense diet combined with plenty of exercise.

Further Reading: How to Cut Excess Fat in Children's Diets

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