Fat in Food

Before we start this conversation, we need to get something out of the way.

Dietary fat has a bad reputation. You may have heard some unflattering rumors, so let’s clear the air:

  • Eating fat does not make you fat
  • The fat on your body is different than the fat in food

In fact, the fat in food is a macronutrient. That means your body needs a diet with enough fat to function. Fat does a lot of cool things for us. It supports our heart, brain and allows us use other nutrients in food. However, the type of fat you eat is very important. Let’s talk about three different types of fat, the foods they are found in and some FAQs about FATs!

Unsaturated fat (Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated) —- These are your healthy fats. Found in plant foods and fish.

Saturated fat —- This is the fat in dairy and meat. Because it is difficult for our body to use, this fat should be limited in our diets.

Trans fat (Hydrogenated fat) —- This human-made substance gave all fats a bad name. It has been prohibited in the United States and other places around the world but it is still important for us to recognize. It can be found in processed foods.

Foods can have more than one type of fat in them. But if we were to categorize differents foods into groups it might look something like this…

Unsaturated fatSaturated fatTrans fat
Olive oil
Canola oil
Sesame oil
Coconut oil
Whole milk
Hydrogenated oil
Some processed food
Some fried foods
Some margarines

The FAQs on fats

  • What do I use to cook with?
    • Olive oil for low heat or no heat. It is okay for cooking on the stovetop, and making salad dressings, soups or sauces. It’s got a low smoke point so try to keep it under 350 degrees.
    • Vegetable oil (soybean, corn, canola, safflower, peanut oil) can get a bit hotter, about up to 400 degrees. This is okay for baking and roasting vegetables.
    • Butter – don’t be afraid! You can use butter for baked goods or other foods that would taste better cooked in butter. It can stand up to higher heat.
  • But WHY is unsaturated fat better for me?
    • Oh you want the biochemistry behind the nutrition? Alright, since you asked… dietary fat provides the fatty acid for cell membranes. The double bond arrangement of the fatty acid chains in an unsaturated fat molecule provide fluidity. That flexibility is important for transporting stuff through the cell membrane, cell signaling and nervous system function.
  • What is the deal with cholesterol?
    • Another victim of defamation, cholesterol got a bad name. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs to make cell membranes, some hormones and vitamin d. We can get extra cholesterol in the food we eat. For the medical stats: HDL is considered healthier because it’s carrying excess cholesterol to the liver to be trashed. LDL is not so friendly – too much LDL hanging around can become plaques in the bloodstream that lead to clots, strokes and heart disease.
  • What is an Omega 3?
    • Omega 3s are polyunsaturated fats that rose to fame from their possible ability to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. These fats are found in salmon, tuna, herring and algae – all can be made into supplements. If you don’t regularly eat these foods, you can talk with your doctor about if supplementation is right for you.

How to explain the importance of healthy eating to a five year old

Well it’s not easy

Kids are wonderful little creatures. They trip through life with boundless energy and creativity, unencumbered by grown-up worries. Little marvels of curiosity, chaos and sticky fingers. Let’s keep them that way.

There is a lot of nutrition information circulating around your world. It could come from the media, your friends, books and even school. After you take it all in, you still have to figure out what is fact and what is fiction. It can be overwhelming and frustrating. Obviously, we don’t want to put that burden on kids. However, providing them with an understanding about nutrition may help them navigate that minefeild later in life.

When talking to younger kids about food, these are a few guidelines I like to follow:

  • Avoid labeling food “good” or “bad”
  • Be honest
  • Remain positive
  • Stay connected
  • Keep an open mind

Avoid labeling foods “good” or “bad”

That should be the standard for a lot of nutrition education. I think we can agree: kids aren’t very good at nuance. They like things to be one or the other, all or nothing. Superheros and villians. It’s easier to understand. Becuase of this, they might not remember anything you say after labeling a food good or bad.

You might say, ” Cake is bad when you eat it all the time.” or “Vegetables are good but you should eat other foods too.” They are going to stop listening after they hear that definitive GOOD or BAD.

So try not to make foods into superheros or villians. You don’t want kids (or adults) thinking that it’s healthy to only eat vegetables and turn down birthday desserts.

Be honest

Why are oranges orange? Are the eggs we eat baby chickens? What happens to milk after it comes out of the cow? Why is candy bad for me? Why is spinach good for me?” Many kids like asking questions. And they definitely aren’t monitoring their queries to what they need to know.

When questions about food come up, and you know the answer, say it! Explain it to the best of your ability. Even if it’s confusing at first. I promise you that the kid will be a lot more confused if you stretch the truth, give a partial answer or make something up. Additionally, if you don’t know the answer, say that! There’s no shame in not knowing. Then you can both look it up and gain some sweet nutrition knowledge together.

Remain positive

The world is a scary place. We don’t want to add fear of food into the mix. When explaining nutrition and why it’s important to eat healthy food, try to avoid catastrophizing.

We don’t eat candy all day becuase it has sugar. Sugar doesn’t give us a lot of energy and it doesn’t keep our bodies strong like other foods do. That’s why we can’t only eat candy.”

That sounds a lot less scary than:

If you eat too much candy, you will get sick and all your teeth will fall out.”

It also helps to lump yourself into the mix. Use plural first person pronouns like ‘we’ to make it less of a threat and more of a group activity. And this is a good time to Be Honest with what you know and what you need to figure out. One last thing: there’s no such thing as a perfect diet. There’s no pass/fail when it comes to nutrition. We are all doing our best to eat in ways that help our body. That’s the goal: to do our best.

Stay connected

Humans like patterns. We fall into the same conversations everyday. We have an automatic answer for almost every concievable question. It’s convenient, but in order to cultivate understanding in a child, it’s important to turn off autopilot and stay present. Fortunately, we can use another very human, very powerful tool: empathy.

Connecting with a kid about what they like and how they feel can really improve your explanation game. It can also forge a connection between an individual and nutrition. They like to play soccer and dance? Eating a variety of foods can give you energy and strength to do these activities. They’re really into cars and trucks? Those machines require fuel to get things done, just like your body needs food to power up. Using a kid’s interests to explain healthy eating will keep them engaged and may improve their comprehension.

Keep an open mind.

Young lives are just as unique as old ones. We can’t know what children are feeling or thinking. We might not know what happens at home or the food offered in schools. Accepting that we don’t know everything is an important part of adulthood. All we can do is remain kind and open.

Thank you for reading these guidelines.

I hope that it helps you to communicate the importance of healthy eating to any curious creature in your life, young or old.