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Importance of fatty acids in kids’ foods

Importance of fatty acids in kids’ foods

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Essential fatty acids are vital for children’s growth and development. These are acids that out bodies can’t produce on their own so we need to take them in through the foods that we eat.

Fat usually gets a bad press but in fact it’s crucial that we consume some fat in our diet and, of course, children are no different. The trick is in learning which fats we need and what foods are best for getting them.

Why do we need fat?

As with other mammals we need fat to store energy and to help our bodies grow and develop properly. Essential fatty acids are key to cell functions, aid out bodies to absorb vitamins and help our brains recognise nerve signals. They also boost immunity and are important for vision. In children, essential fatty acids are particularly important for neural development and the maturing of sensory systems.

Omega oils

Omega oils belong to a group called ‘polyunsaturated fats’. There are three main types; omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9. Each performs a different role and as such, it’s important to achieve a balance.


Importance of fatty acids in kids’ foodsAs soon as anyone mentions omega-3, most people’s thoughts turn to fish. Oily fish, such as mackerel, tuna and salmon, is indeed a great source of essential fatty acids and the government recommends we eat two portions a week to keep our omega-3 levels topped up. However, kids can be notoriously picky eaters and if yours isn’t keen on oily fish you might wish to try some of these alternatives:

  • Switch from sunflower oil to rapeseed oil in cooking
  • Snack on walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts or grind them and add to salads
  • Include cauliflower as a side dish on main meals
  • Use soya products, such as milk, beans and tofu
  • Incorporate plenty of green leafy vegetables into your diet

Omega-6 and omega-9

Good sources include red meat and poultry. Vegetarians can get their quota from nuts, eggs and sunflower oils. Too much omega-6 can cause inflammation and has been linked to heart disease and arthritis. However, it’s vital to consume some omega-6 to allow it to work with omega-3 to maintain a healthy body. Most people already consume enough omega-6 so it’s more important to concentrate on including omega-3 into children’s diets.

Portion sizes

The appropriate portion size will obviously depend on the age and size of your child. The British Association of Dieticians recommends the following portion sizes for oily fish:

  • 18 months – 3 years ¼ – ¾ small fillet or 1-3 tablespoons
  • 4 – 6 years ½ – 1 small fillet or 2-4 tablespoons
  • 7 – 11 years 1-1½ small fillets or 3-5 tablespoons
  • 12 years+ 140g fresh fish or 1 small can oily fish

Other fats

While polyunsaturated fats can be good for children, it’s necessary to bear in mind that saturated and trans fats don’t have the same health benefits. These can raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Therefore, foods containing the ‘wrong’ kinds of fat should be avoided or only eaten occasionally.











About Maria Brett

About Maria Brett

Maria is a freelance writer with over 10 years' experience producing content for a variety of publications and websites. When not working or looking after her two gorgeous sons, she can usually be found playing flugelhorn in a brass band, helping out at her local hospital radio station, shouting at the television while watching Formula 1, at the cinema or plonked on the couch with a cold glass of wine.

Website: Maria Brett

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