Fats & oils

Fats and oils
Why add fat to food?

There are numerous reasons why you should use full-fat products and include fat in your baby’s diet – and your own. First of all, fats provide energy. Fat is the most efficient source of energy from food. Every gram gives approximately nine calories of energy, compared to four calories per gram of carbohydrates and proteins. And we all know how much energy a small child needs!

Secondly, fats build healthy cells. Fat is needed to build healthy cell membranes so that cells can function. The body and brain develop very quickly in the first 6 years in particular. We all need fat, but small children under the age of 6 really need a good intake of good fats, because… fats build brains. Fat also makes up the components of myelin, the fatty sheath surrounding each nerve fibre, so your child’s brain can work faster.

The body further needs fats to use vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, so the body needs fat to be able to absorb them. Small children need lots of vitamins to help them grow up healthy, with strong bones and teeth and to ensure their immune systems stay strong to protect them against the viruses and colds that so often strike little ones.

Fat is also needed for healthy skin and to form a protective cushions for the organs. Our vital organs, especially the kidneys, heart, and intestines are protected by fat to guard them from injury and keep them in place.

However, not all fats are made equal. It is important to eat good fats and avoid the bad fats which can, amongst others, lead to lifelong weight problems (see below).

Isn’t full-fat food unhealthy?

You will often hear that full-fat food is unhealthy and leads to obesity. There is a great deal of research which suggests that it is not fat as such, but hydrogenated fats and trans fats, sugar and processed food that are leading to an increase in obesity.

The body needs two types of fat to make healthy brain cells. It needs Omega 3 (found in flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, sardines, tofu, snapper, avocados) and Omega 6 (found in oils such as safflower oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil and sesame oil as well as hemp oil, which has the best balance of 3 and 6). A diet low in Essential Fatty Acids will cause the body to replace them with replacement fats, which can be harmful to your body. A diet high in omega 3 fatty acids also lowers the blood level of potentially harmful fats, such as cholesterol.

The most rapid brain growth occurs during the first year of life. Mother Nature knows how important fat is for babies – 50% of the calories in mother’s milk is fat. And all milks are not made equal either – milk varies from species to species. Cows milk for example is low in the DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) Omega 3 Fatty Acids that a human baby’s brain needs to grow, but high in the saturated fat that cows need to grow and survive.

DHA is the primary structural component of brain tissue, so it is required for good brain function. It has been demonstrated in studies that babies with a low level of DHA in their diet have slower brain development and lower vision than those with high DHA levels. Breastfed babies have been shown to have higher IQs (although this may be in part because higher IQ makes parents more likely to breastfeed). Inuit people and other cultures with a diet rich in Omega 3 have a lower incidence of MS and other degenerative diseases. ADHD has also been linked to a diet low in Essential Fatty Acids and a change in diet has been shown to help.

“Bad” fats are those which impair brain function as well as being harmful for the cardiovascular system. The worst are man-made hydrogenated fats/unsaturated trans fats which can be found for example in commercially prepared baked foods, snack foods, and processed foods, including fast foods.