Role of Fat for Babies/Toddlers

The word “fat” instantly brings up negative health correlations but fat is actually a good thing! The right types of fat and quantities are important for development and healthy functioning. 

Selection of good fat saurces, copy space

What Are Fats?

Foods are broken down into 3 main categories of MACRONUTRIENTS

  1. Carbohydrates (which include sugar, just so you know!) 
  2. Protein
  3. Fat

(Vitamins and Minerals are classified as MICRONUTRIENTS

Getting enough healthy fats is essential for growth and development. Young kids, in particular, need enough fat in their diet to help the brain and nervous system develop normally.

Fats are nutrients in food that the body uses to build nerve tissue, including the brain and nerves. The body also uses fat as fuel. It takes the body up to 12 hours to digest fat meaning that while little ones are asleep (espeically at night) fat acts as a source of energy during periods where food isn’t being eaten. 

Besides supplying fuel for the body, fats also:

  • help the body absorb some vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed if there’s fat in a person’s diet)
  • are the building blocks of hormones
  • insulate all nervous system tissues in the body
  • help people feel full, so they’re less likely to overeat

Healthy fats are a vital part of a child’s diet, and they should not be excessively limited or banned. For young kids, especially, fat and cholesterol play important roles in brain development. And for those under 2 years old, fat should not be restricted. Generally, kids should eat a varied diet with about one third of calories coming from fat.

In later years (beyond early childhood) if fats eaten aren’t burned as energy or used as building blocks, they’re stored by the body in fat cells. This is the body’s way of thinking ahead: By saving fat for future use, it plans for times when food might be scarce. Originally this mechanism of digestion was developed for times of “feast and famine” when people who grew their own food might have to go without for a period of time. However, nowadays, it is a rarity that people experience this (but it does still happen in the world). 

Even more in depth: fat is also broken down into 3 categories.

1. Unsaturated fats: Found in plant foods and fish, these are seen as neutral or even beneficial to heart health. Unsaturated fats are:

  • monounsaturated, found in avocados and olive, peanut, and canola oils
  • polyunsaturated, found in most vegetable oils
  • omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found in oily fish like tuna and salmon

2. Saturated fats: Found in meat and other animal products, such as butter, shortening, lard, cheese, and milk (except skim or nonfat). Coconut oil is also high in saturated fat, but it has a different structure than saturated fats found in animal products. Coconut oil has become popular due to its health benefits; however, olive and canola oils are more heart-healthy. Eating too much saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.

3. Trans fats: Found in some stick margarines, commercial snack foods, baked goods, and some commercially fried foods. Trans fats (also called trans fatty acids) are created when vegetable oils are hydrogenated (meaning that hydrogen atoms are added to the fat molecule so they remain solid at room temperature). Trans fats can raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. Food manufacturers must list trans fats on food labels, but may also refer to them as “partially hydrogenated” oils on the ingredient list. Many companies now make margarines (or vegetable oil spreads) without trans fats.

Sources of Healthy Fats

  • Avocado, avocado oil
  • Coconut, coconut oil
  • Cold-water fish, fish oils (e.g., sardines, wild salmon, anchovies)
  • Eggs (if not allergic)
  • Olives, olive oil
  • Algae, algae oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Nuts, nut butter (if not allergic)
  • Dairy products like yogurt and cheese (if not allergic)
  • Whole milk (if not allergic)
  • Grass-fed organic meats

Fat isn’t BAD!

Regarded as “unhealthy” for years and years, all fats are not “bad.” In fact, healthy fats are critically important for toddlers’ development, energy, health, immunity, brain, eyes and mental health. Just choose your fats wisely, and don’t underestimate the benefits of including them in your toddler’s diet!

The author of this site encourages you to consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition. No information on this site should be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. For more information please read our full disclaimer here.


Published by snackswithjax

Sarah is the creator and mom behind "Snacks with Jax", a social media community of over 85,000 parents/caregivers, where she shares her son's meals, nutrition information, and evidence-based tips for feeding children. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist with a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition emphasizing in Wellness from Texas Woman's University and years of experience as a culinary instructor working with ages 2+. She has coached hundreds of parents & caregivers through the journey introducing solids to babies and also navigating picky eating with toddlers and older children. Her focus is on establishing a life-long healthy relationship with food for children while also empowering, encouraging, and educating their adult caregivers.

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