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Not all fats are bad. In fact, some fats are essential for your child’s health and development.

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  • Although children are not at risk for heart disease, it's important to establish good eating habits at a young age.
  • Children whose diets include too many bad fats have a higher risk of increased cholesterol levels and heart disease later in life.

Good fat and bad fat: the differences

Good fat
This kind of fat is sometimes called unsaturated fat. It helps us produce good cholesterol and aids its circulation around the body.

Unsaturated fat helps keep arteries clear. It also reduces bad cholesterol, which is associated with heart problems. A diet with unsaturated fat can help avoid these problems later in life.

Good or unsaturated fat comes in two forms: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. There are two types of polyunsaturated fat: omega-3 and omega-6. These are also known as essential fatty acids.

Bad fat
This kind of fat comes in the form of saturated fat and trans fat. Both kinds of fat increase the production of bad cholesterol and can reduce good cholesterol. Both can also increase the risk of heart disease later in life.

Where fats are found and what they do

Type of fat Where it’s found What it does
Monounsaturated (good)
  • Oils like olive, canola and grape seed oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Lean meat
  • Avocado
Lowers cholesterol when it replaces saturated fats in an average daily diet
Polyunsaturated (good) Salmon and tuna
  • Lowers cholesterol when it replaces saturated fats in an average daily diet
  • Can be more effective than monounsaturated fat
Omega-3 (a type of polyunsaturated, or good, fat)
  • Tuna, salmon, mackerel
  • Nuts and flaxseed
  • Soy foods
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Walnuts
  • Breastmilk
  • Linked to baby brain and eye development in utero and during the first six months of life
  • Helps strengthen the immune system, helps growth in the brain and nervous system
  • Can be good for rheumatoid arthritis, pain relief, morning stiffness and inflammation
  • Helps to protect adults from heart disease
Omega-6 (a type of polyunsaturated, or good, fat) Vegetable oils like sunflower, groundnut (peanuts), canola and soy Protects against heart disease by helping control bad cholesterol
Saturated (bad) Animal products, like meat fat, palm and coconut oil, and dairy
  • No known health benefits
  • Increases the amount of bad cholesterol in the body
Trans fat
  • Commercially-made cakes, biscuits, takeaway
  • Shortening, margarine
  • Processed foods such as ready-made meals, snack foods such as chips and energy bars, and processed meat and dairy products
  • No known health benefits
  • Increases the amount of bad cholesterol in the body and reduces the amount of good cholesterol

Quick fat facts

  • Essential fatty acids can’t be made in the body (except in breastmilk), so it’s important to include them in your child’s diet.
  • A balanced diet should include about 2% of energy from essential fatty acids – 1.5% from omega-6 and 0.5% from omega-3. Plant seeds, nuts and fish are good sources of essential fatty acids.
  • Research suggests limiting the amount of saturated fat in your diet to about 10% of your daily energy intake. The best way to do this is to choose lean meat, reduced-fat milk and dairy products (only for children over two years) or skim milk (only for children over five years). Try to keep commercially made cakes, biscuits and takeaway to a minimum.
  • Vegetarians can choose soy foods, green leafy vegetables, legumes and walnuts to get enough omega-3 in their diet.
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  • Last Updated 14-01-2010
  • Last Reviewed 12-10-2009
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