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Fats and Your Child

As with carbohydrates in recent years, fats have been wrongly accused of being "bad." Too much fat can be a bad thing, but fat is an essential nutrient and some are definitely better than others. Certain kinds of fat are actually good for us and are an important part of a healthy diet.

About Fat

Fats are nutrients in food that the body uses to build nerve tissue (including the brain and nerves) and hormones. The body also uses fat as fuel. If fats eaten aren't burned as energy or used as building blocks, they're stored by the body in fat cells. This is the body's way of thinking ahead: By saving fat for future use, the body plans for times when food might be scarce.

Fat gives food flavor and texture, but it's also high in calories and excess amounts of fatty foods can cause many health problems.

For kids and teens, desserts and snacks (including potato chips, chocolate, cakes, doughnuts, pastries, and cookies) are a significant source of fat. Kids also get fat from whole-milk products and high-fat meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, and non-lean red meat.

Of course, fast-food and takeout meals tend to have more fat than home cooking; and in restaurants, fried dishes are the highest in fat content. Fat also often "hides" in foods in the form of creamy, cheesy, or buttery sauces or dressings.

Still, fat is an important part of a healthy diet when kids eat the right kinds in recommended amounts.

Why Some Fats Are Healthy

Adequate fat intake is essential to growth and development. Young kids, especially, need a certain amount of fat in their diets to help the brain and nervous system develop correctly.

Besides supplying fuel for the body, fats:

  • aid in the absorption of some vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed if there's fat in a person's diet)
  • are the building blocks of hormones
  • are necessary for insulating all nervous system tissues in the body
  • help people feel full, so they're less likely to eat as much

Fat is a great source of energy but has twice the amount of calories compared with the same amount of carbohydrates or protein. For example, 1 gram of fat provides 9 calories, whereas 1 gram of both carbohydrates and protein provide 4 grams each.

Low-fat diets have been touted for years, but some experts think the low-fat/no-fat revolution may have gone too far, overlooking the complex nature of fats and how they work in the body.

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