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‘Is a diet that includes fats suitable for my child? What if I “deprive” her of refined carbohydrates? Won’t she get tired and hungry? And if I increase her fat consumption? Won’t she get fat?’
The nutrition world has been distancing itself from anti-fat, pro-carb propaganda since the start of the 2000s. World opinion on natural fats is in the process of doing a 180 degree turn. The scientific proof exists now that saturated fats present less of a health risk on their own. In fact, in an eye-popping twist, it turns out that processed fats – those created to replace natural fats – are the fats that can and do make people sick.
The message that fat is fattening and that carbohydrates are filling is so ingrained (no pun intended), it’s difficult to imagine an alternative. In fact, the opposite is true. Refined carbohydrates are fattening. Healthy fats provide energy. One of the most obvious signs of fat deficiency is fatigue – or, simply put, a lack of energy.
Our bodies don’t just need fat for energy. Did you know the human brain is about 60% fat? The brain uses free fatty acids to make sure the neurons are constantly coated. And it’s not just the brain that needs fat. All your child’s hormones are immersed in fat. There are also thin layers of fat around every one of your child’s organs. Fat provides a thin layer of insulation under the skin and the immune system needs it, too. Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K can’t pass through the intestinal walls without fat.
The main difference between your metabolism and that of your child is that hers is a lot busier. While our metabolisms are focussed on maintenance, a child’s is focussed on growth. For this, it needs energy. Also, because they’re more active than adults, children have more lean muscle mass, which means they burn more energy than we do. Because growing bodies need so much energy one needn’t restrict their energy sources as strictly as one would for adults. Natural carbs, like butternut, and natural sugars, like fruit and vegetables, are beneficial for children.
PROTEINS/FATS VS PROCESSED CARBS
Your child would need to sit down to three slices of supermarket bread to get the same energy as he would from a medium egg. Consider the size of your toddler’s tummy (his fist size); the chance is much greater that he would consume a whole egg than he would two slices of bread. The quality of the calories also matters: the egg contains excellent protein, healthy fats and omega-3, with no preservatives, fillers or unnatural additives.
What we really need to worry about though are industry-driven fats. These are fats that were ‘created’ by industry as substitutes for supposedly harmful saturated fats like butter and lard. One of the most damaging trans-fats is hydrogenated fat in margarine. Oils made with sunflower and canola seeds are heat-treated and contain trans-fats. Anything shallow- or deep-fried in these oils will contain trans-fat. Palm oil, meanwhile, is a cheap oil used by industry for things like pies and pastries. It is also used extensively in fast-food chains. Cheap, convenient and often made tempting in fried foods, these fats are a no-go!
IS IT A PROTEIN OR IS IT A FAT?
It seems simple at first glance: examples of fats and oils are butter, cream, avocado, coconut, nuts and seeds. Right? But what about protein? Nut oil is a fat, but a handful of nuts is majority protein. What about fatty meats? When you eat bacon or lamb, regardless of how fatty the cut, the majority nutrient is protein. It’s important not to confuse protein and fat. Meat, essentially, is protein. Lamb is a high-fat protein, beef is medium fat and chicken and fish are low fat. Only rendered animal fat falls into the ‘fats and oils’ category. Good sources of healthy proteins are beans and peas, lean beef, fish, milk, poultry, yoghurt and eggs.
At a certain time in the previous century, protein, like fat, was considered dangerous. In fact protein is vital for a child’s growth. Protein . . .
a) Builds muscle
During digestion, proteins are broken down. Chicken, for instance, is converted into peptides. These peptides are like trains and all the carriages are amino acids. The amino acids go into muscle cells helping to sustain muscle strength and endurance.
b) Builds immunity
Our immune system is built of amino acids.
c) Aids the metabolism
Protein at breakfast can kickstart your metabolism, reduce mindless snacking and help control appetite throughout the day. A steady supply of protein in your diet throughout the day will keep metabolism firing.
d) Is an excellent source of energy
A boost of protein will help prevent your body from stripping the muscles for energy. Your muscles need these calories for muscle maintenance.
e) Boost alertness
Protein-rich foods are rich in an amino acid called tyrosine, which may boost levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, making concentration easier.
QUALITY TRUMPS QUANTITY
If fats are good, why not fill the trolley with butter and cream? Let everyone in the family eat as many lamb chops as they like? Well, for one reason, you won’t enjoy it. Our bodies are not designed to binge on a single macronutrient. What I am advocating is not more food. I am advocating the replacement of bad food with good.
Interesting fact # 1
1957Sales of margarine outpace butter. John Yudkin, Biritish physiologist and nutritionist, publishes the results of his research into saturated fat and its supposed link to heart disease. He concludes that there is no evidence to link the two.
Interesting fact # 2
1953American biochemist Ancel Keyes claims that eating saturated fat clogs arteries and leads to heart disease. This becomes known as the ‘lipid hypothesis’.
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