Why should my child eat healthy fats?

You want your children to eat healthfully, but what's good for you may not be good for your kids. In particular, adults and very young children need different amounts of fat in their diets.

Fat is an important source of calories that support infants' and toddlers' growth. Two fatty acids -- linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid -- are essential for your child's growth and brain development. Our bodies don't make these acids, so we must get them from food. Kids also need some fat from food to help their bodies use vitamins A, D, E and K. So don't cut back on fat for young children.
Kathleen Dunn
Nutrition & Dietetics
Eating enough healthy fats -- especially omega-3 fatty acids -- every day helps nourish your child’s brain to fuel active learning. Two omega-3 fatty acids -- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) -- can lend a helping hand, but the real brain-boosting star is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Since the body is unable to make ALA, we must consume it in the foods we eat. After we consume it, however, the body can convert some ALA -- about 15 percent -- into EPA and finally into DHA. Both EPA and DHA influence the physical nature of cell membranes and cellular functions, while DHA plays an important structural role in the eye and brain.

Here are four ways to help your child boost their intake of omega-3 fatty acids:
  1. Offer foods naturally rich in ALA - English walnuts, flaxseed, green leafy vegetables such as purslane and spinach and certain vegetable oils -- canola, soybean, flaxseed, linseed and olive -- are particularly good sources of ALA. 
  2. Encourage more cold-water, fatty fish - The only foods that supply substantial amounts of EPA and DHA are fish, particularly cold-water fish such as salmon, haddock, mackerel, tuna, anchovies and sardines. 
  3. Choose more fortified foods - Fish oils are also a good source of EPA and DHA, and manufacturers are adding these brain-boosting fats to a wide variety of healthy foods. So, it’s worth taking the time to look for brands fortified with omega-3’s.
  4. Add a daily DHA supplement - Consider adding a high-quality DHA supplement to your child’s daily routine. It can help fill the gap between what the diet provides and what an active brain demands.
Gretchen M. Bosacker, MD
Family Medicine

Some fat can actually good for kids because it supports healthy brain and hormone development. Watch as family physician Gretchen Phillips, MD, explains how some fat can be beneficial, and how you can include it in your kids' diets in a healthy way.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.