Don't forget the fat in your child's daily meals - it's essential!


Nearly three-fifths of the brain is composed of fat, so it is essential to include this macronutrient as part of your child’s diet. — Positive Parenting

Not all fats are bad.

In fact, some types of fats are crucial for your child’s nutritional needs, while others help to support learning and growth development.

Parents need to ensure their children have sufficient key macronutrients and micronutrients in their diet, as deficiencies can lead to various health and developmental problems.

These include growth retardation, skin lesions and fatty liver.

For brain and body

Fat is often linked to weight gain and obesity, but there are different types of fat with different functions.

Our body needs fat in order for certain physiological functions to function smoothly, e.g. helping the digestive process and aiding our body in absorbing and transporting vitamins A, D, E and K.

Healthy nutrition is also critical for supporting the optimal development of the brain and achieving a positive cognitive outcome.

The human brain is composed of nearly 60% fat, and many studies show that fatty acids are crucial for proper brain development and function.

“Healthy” fat plays a crucial role in this, being energy dense and having twice the calories of carbohydrates, thus helping to provide both brain and body with sufficient amounts of energy.

It is important to provide enough (but not too much) fat in your child’s diet to support growth and development.

As long as the appropriate amount of fat intake is observed, you don’t need to be overly worried about weight gain as an active child still stands to benefit on the whole.

This is especially since their tummy is small and they eat smaller quantities than adults.

Pick the right fat

So which foods contain the right type of fats?

Basically, fat can be divided in two main types:

> Saturated fat

This is the “unhealthy” type and is mainly found in the fatty part of meat and poultry (e.g. chicken skin), ghee, butter, coconut oil, coconut milk, cakes and biscuits.

Excessive intake is not recommended as it will raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels over time, leading to clogged arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease.

> Unsaturated fats

These are “healthy” fats, and are either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated.

They provide vitamins, antioxidants and essential fatty acids that our body cannot produce.

They can be found in plant sources such as nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, as well as fish.

As unsaturated fats are necessary, these should be in your child’s diet, but in moderation.

For instance, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are one of the major components of the human eye and brain.

Therefore, if your child does not receive enough dietary supply of these key fatty acids, he will experience impairments in cognitive and behavioural performance.

PUFAs (e.g. omega 3, omega 6, DHA, ALA) cannot be made by the body, but are required for learning, growth and development.

Dietary sources for PUFAs include:

  • Fish, e.g. oily fish like salmon, tuna and sardine; marine fish like mackerel (ikan kembong) and seabass (siakap); and fish oil
  • Shellfish, e.g. cockles and oysters
  • Edible plant seeds and nuts, e.g. beans, dhall and peanuts
  • Enriched foods, e.g. omega-3 enriched eggs and milk

Milk fat globule membranes (MFGM), which can be added to formulated milk powder, is also a good source of PUFAs.

MFGM is a complex protein-lipid membrane surrounding the fat globules in milk.

Studies show that it has many healthful benefits, including supporting the development of the innate and adaptive immune system.

It also plays a significant role in supporting neurodevelopment, and shaping the maturing immune system and gut microbiota.

Balance is key

Parents must always keep in mind that no single food can support child growth and development, so do avoid over-focusing on any one particular nutrient.

Your child’s nutritional needs should depend on a healthy combination of various types of food.

This includes foods containing good fats, while reducing the intake of unhealthy fats commonly found in deep-fried food.

A healthy, nutritious diet should encompass the basic principles of balance, moderation and variety (BMV), and meals should be based on the Malaysian Food Pyramid.

These should be supported with other basic practices of good health, i.e. getting enough sleep every night and staying physically active every day.

Professor Dr Norimah A Karim is a nutritionist and council member of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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