Healthy Fats for Babies During WeaningAug 06, 2020
When many adults hear the word ‘fats’ they may naturally think they shouldn’t eat too many, as fats are often associated with weight gain or heart health. This may be the case for many adults, especially if they over consume the wrong types of fats. However, healthy fats for babies are an essential element of their diet and are one of three main macronutrients, alongside carbohydrates and protein.
Around 40 – 50% of your infants’ diet should be made up of healthy fats. This helps your baby during a time of rapid growth and development. Infants often more than double their birth weight in the first 12 months of life and the consumption of healthy fats for babies supports their body through this important stage of development.
What are fats?
Fats are the most energy dense of all the macronutrients, containing more than double the calories per gram, of carbohydrates and protein.
Unsaturated fats are often found in plant foods, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and avocados etc. Unsaturated fats are the healthiest choice in the diet and are made up of mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated fatty acids.
Saturated fat is commonly found in animal and dairy based foods and used in cakes, pastries & high fat snacks such as chocolate. Some plant-based foods high in saturated fat: coconut oil, cocoa butter and palm oil. These are considered the least healthy fats due to their ability to raise bad cholesterol in the body increasing the risk of heart disease.
Omega-3 fats are often called ‘essential’ fatty acids as the body cannot make all the fatty acids it requires and therefore must source some from food. Plant-based sources include walnuts and pumpkin seeds, vegetable oils (rapeseed and linseed), soya and soya products e.g. beans, milk and tofu and green leafy vegetables.
Trans fats also known as hydrogenated fats, are unsaturated in structure but act like a saturated fat in the body. These are found in hard margarines where the process of hydrogenation turns a liquid oil in to a hard fat. Not as common in foods anymore due to the negative impact they have on health, but should be avoided.
Foods are often made up of a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats. However whichever fat is the highest in quantity determines how the fat is characterised. For example, avocado oil consists of 71% monounsaturated fatty acids, 13% polyunsaturated fatty acids, and 16% saturated fatty acids. Therefore, it is categorised as an unsaturated fat.
The role of fat in the body
As well as providing your baby with energy stores, fats have many roles in the body:
- Assist in absorption and use of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K
- Involved in the make-up of nervous tissues
- Maintaining healthy skin and nails
- Used to make hormones that control blood pressure, the immune system, growth and blood clotting
- Essential for healthy brain development; the brain is made up of around 60 per cent fat and therefore requires a steady supply from the diet
Your baby and plant-based fats
Under 12 months of age your infant only has a small stomach, this means the quantity of food they can eat is limited and therefore the total calories they will be able to eat is also capped. This is why providing a high fat diet is essential, as your baby can consume calorie dense food in small quantities and still achieve their required energy intake (alongside breastmilk or infant formula milk).
Unsaturated fats are the best source of fats to fuel your baby with and are the primary source of fat in a wholefoods plant-based diet. Aim to include rich nutritious sources of fats such as vegetable oils, nut butters or ground nuts, seeds, avocados, peanut butter and sesame oils daily. Offer a source of fat at most meals and snacks to ensure your baby is achieving a plentiful intake. Baby-led weaning babies will follow their own internal cues of satiety (fullness). Allow your baby to take the lead here and avoid over-feeding them, as a diet too high in fat or calories can lead to weight gain and an unhealthy weight in later life.