Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Trimming The Fat"

Like many pregnant women, I signed up for Baby Center's weekly 'fetus updates' when I became pregnant. It was fun to see the twins' size in utero compared to a fruit or veggie and read about the various body parts and organs that developed at the different stages. Since the girls were born, I don’t always have the time to look at the updates but when I do, they are often informative and useful.

However the piece I received for my "2-year old preschooler" this week titled Long and Lean concerned me in my capacity as a nutritionist. The first sentence said: "Time to trim the fat!" … and my toddlers’ diets should consist of no more than 30% fat and I should start to feed my twins low-fat dairy products.

In my opinion as a nutritionist, this low-fat take on food is misguided. In the 80s, we were extremely fat and carb-phobic (or so I was told). Some people have still not left that behind and realized the difference between the healthy and not-so-healthy.

Here are a few reasons why we, and not just our two-year olds, should stay away from low and no-fat foods:
•   When fat is taken out of a food, it needs to be replaced with something. That something is most often sugar. Sugar is no better (arguably worse) than fat. If carbohydrates (sugar) are not burned off, they will turn to fat. Low or no-fat "foods" rarely leave us feeling satiated, which means it often leads us to eat more. 
•   Saturated fats (butter, coconut oil, eggs, meat) keep our cell walls strong. 
•   Fats, especially saturated fats, help our bodies absorb vital nutrients (vitamin A, D, E). Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, which is particularly important for young children and women. 
•   Omega-3 fats are critical for brain development in young children. But, don't be fooled by "fortified" foods (ie. breakfast cereals). These foods have very little omega fats and the quality of the fats is usually poor. My girls eat fish and seafood 1-2 times per week and take a daily dose of a high-quality DHA supplement. If your child suffers from eczema or frequent colds, try adding omega-3 fats into his/her diet for a few weeks. [Note: If your baby is under a year old, do not give an Omega-3 supplement without consulting a naturopathic doctor. You can, however, take the supplement yourself, if you are breastfeeding.]
•   A reasonable amount of saturated fats per day can actually promote weight loss. Research actually shows that coconut oil is so well-absorbed by the body that it is used as an energy source and will speed up your metabolism. 

As with everything, fats, both saturated and unsaturated (Omegas), are good for us in moderation. I cook only with butter and coconut oil and use sensible amounts.

In closing, the last thing we should do is "trim the fat" on our toddlers! In the event that a toddler is overweight, a healthy diet, exercise and proper sleep should be the only "medicine" given.

For more information, definitely contact a naturopathic doctor. 

For further reference check out Gary Taubes' excellent books: Good Calories Bad Calories and Why We are Fat and What we can do about it.


  1. Thank you for this post!
    My boys are big, not fat but overall big & people keep offering (unsolicited) advice to trim them down. Sometimes making me second guess myself :(
    In all honesty the 2 bigger boys eat far less than their smaller brother.
    The only thing I have changed in their diets since theyve turned 2 is their fruit intake & that's only because they can go to the kitchen & tell me what they want now. Who am I to deny them a piece of fruit when they ask for it :)

    1. I frequently get comments about Teagan's size too. Funny enough she is pretty average for her age. She looks much bigger than Quinn though.

      Don't you love the unsolicited advice though? ;)

  2. Ridiculous!
    Did you end up writing BabyCentre about it?

  3. I read an interesting research article the other day on milk, which my 2.5 year old consumes a lot of in various forms. After results of an observational study showed that kids drinking skim milk were more likely to be overweight than kids drinking whole milk, they did experiments with kids that showed that those who drank skim consumed more calories. Skim milk wasn't as satisfying as whole milk and so the kids ate more (and often not good stuff). My gut told me to keep giving whole milk after 2 but this data has broader implications than that - fat makes you feel full so taking it out means you will likely crave more calories in addition to the ones replacing the fat in the 'low fat' food in the first place - potentially a double whammy.

    1. Fat does make you feel full, which means that you will probably eat a smaller amount and feel satisfied. I would always tell my clients that if ice cream, for example, is their "thing", then buy the best ice cream and eat a small bowl, instead of a large bowl of the low-fat stuff (which will probably still leave you unsatisfied). We can't deprive ourselves all the time. Enjoy the treat to the fullest :)

  4. Thank you for this post - your posts make nutrition real and easy for our little ones! Again, thank you!

  5. Low fat dairy products? What about all the crummy emulsifiers and thickeners? Unless we're talking 0-2% greek yogurt, I wholeheartedly protest.

    1. Exactly! Even then, toddlers need the fat. I won't be giving them 0% green yogurt!