Kids & Diet: Fat, Salt, and Sugar by Colleen Kraft, M.D.
Getting children to eat healthy, nutritious food can sometimes present challenges. It’s important for both children and adults to be sensible and enjoy all foods and beverages, but not to overdo it on any one type of food. Sweets and higher-fat snack foods in appropriate portions are OK in moderation.
Childhood is the best time to start heart healthy eating habits, but adult goals for cutting back on total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol are not meant generally for children younger than 2 years.
Fat is an Essential Nutrient for Children
Fat supplies the energy, or calories, children need for growth and active play and should not be severely restricted.
Dangers of High Fat Intake
However, high fat intake—particularly a diet high in saturated fats—can cause health problems, including heart disease later in life. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperatures and are found in fatty meats (such as beef, pork, ham, veal, and lamb) and many dairy products (whole milk, cheese, and ice cream). For that reason, after age 2 children should be served foods that are lower in fat and saturated fats.
Healthier, More Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Foods for Children Over Age 2:
- Lean meat (broiled, baked, or roasted; not fried)
- Low-fat dairy products
- Low-saturated fat oils from vegetables
The General Rule on Fats
As a general guideline, fats should make up less than 30% of the calories in your child’s diet, with no more than about one-third or fewer of those fat calories coming from saturated fat and the remainder from unsaturated (polyunsaturated or monounsaturated) fats. These include vegetable oils like corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and olive. Parents often find the information about various types of fat confusing. In general, oils and fats derived from animal origin are saturated. The simplest place to start is merely to reduce the amount of fatty foods of all types in your family’s diet.
Serve Children Foods Low in Salt
Table salt, or sodium chloride, may improve the taste of certain foods. However, researchers have found a relationship between dietary salt and high blood pressure in some individuals and population groups. High blood pressure afflicts about 25% of adult Americans and contributes to heart attacks and strokes.
Check Sodium Levels in Processed Foods
Processed foods often contain higher amounts of sodium. Check food labels for levels of sodium in:
- Processed cheese
- Instant puddings
- Canned vegetables
- Canned soups
- Hot dogs
- Salad dressings
- Certain breakfast cereals
- Potato chips and other snacks
Sugar in Your Child’s Diet: Go for Natural!
Caloric sweeteners range from simple sugars, like fructose and glucose, to common table sugar, molasses, honey, and high fructose corn syrup. Although the main use of sugar is as a sweetener, sugar has other uses. Sugars in foods, whether natural or added, provide calories—the fuel that supplies energy necessary for daily activities. And if given the choice, many children would probably request sugary foods and beverages for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—research shows that humans are naturally drawn to sweet tastes. Whole fruit is a great choice because it combines fiber and other nutrients along with a delicious snack!
The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.