FatsIt's a four-letter word to most of us, but the truth is that fats, especially certain kinds, are essential to good health. It's unfortunate, perhaps even dangerous, that our culture has developed such a prejudice against fat in foods. "The low-fat, no-fat movement has really backfired, especially for our children," says Dr. Monaco. "Sure, it eliminates bad fats that can cause heart disease, but it also wipes out the good fats -- such as linolenic fatty acids that are major structural components of brain cells, nervous-system cells, hormones, and immune-system cells. Kids who are constantly growing need even more fat than adults. We simplistically think that fat on our bodies comes from fat in our food, not realizing that it's a very important nutrient."
Good fats -- namely monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids -- are generally found in liquid vegetable oils like olive, corn, canola, and safflower oil. These fats supply the body with cellular building blocks as well as mechanisms to keep blood cholesterol levels down. Saturated fats -- the "bad" ones -- are found in meats, butter, lard, and other solid fats; they tend to raise cholesterol and fat levels in the blood.
How much good fat a child needs depends on how many calories he consumes overall. Most health experts recommend that children get about 30 percent of calories from fat. So how does that translate into fat grams per day? The answer lies in a two quick calculations:
Total calories x 0.30 (calories from fat) = recommended calories from fat per day
Calories from fat divided by 9 (the number of calories per fat gram) = grams of fat in foods
For example, if a child eats 1,800 calories: 1,800 x 0.30 = 540 calories from fat; 540 (divided by) 9 = 60 grams of fat -- an amount you can look for on labels. For most preschoolers who burn about 1,200 calories per day, their fat gram quota would be 40; elementary-age kids who use 1,500 calories per day can afford 50 fat grams. That might sound like a lot, but the a typical fast-food lunch of a cheeseburger and small french fries racks up about 28 grams of fat -- and mostly the bad kind.
However, a peanut-butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread with an apple and a 1/4 cup of raisins has only 11 grams of good fat (plus plenty of other healthy stuff like fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals). When considering fat, remember balance is best.