The Role of Fat For a Growing Baby's’ Development:
Is you baby's diet missing this an essential component?
Like any high-performance engine, the human body needs oil to run smoothly and function efficiently.
Fat plays a very important part in your baby’s growth, the buildout of the nervous system and brain development. Especially important are Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids - these are called essential fatty acids, because our bodies cannot make them on their own; they have to be consumed with the foods that we eat.
Certain vitamins need fat in order to be absorbed, processed, and stored by the body:
Vitamin A is vital for fetal development, it is known to help with vision and eyesight, immune function, cell growth and body growth in children, cell regeneration as well as healthy skin, hair and nails.
While vitamin A is only found in foods from animal sources, such as liver, butter or eggs, many vegetables supply beta-carotene, from which vitamin A can be derived.
Vitamin D is vital for strong bones and a strong immune system. It can be produced by the body with the help of sunlight. However, babies are often shielded from exposing large areas of their bodies to potentially harmful UV-rays, and while you can purchase vitamin D enriched products in the supermarket, there are only few natural food sources of vitamin D. To ensure a healthy skeletal development, pediatricians often suggest a vitamin D supplement for infants.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. It protects cells against oxidative damage, which gives it anti-aging properties and the potential to reduce the risk for heart disease and cancer.
The best food sources of Vitamin E are certain vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
Vitamin K is a group of K vitamins, which play an important role for blood clotting, bone health, and the cardiovascular system. Vitamin K1 can be found in green leafy vegetables and herbs, while vitamin K2 comes from animal sources such as egg and butter as well as fermented soy products.
Adding fat to an infant’s diet:
Breastmilk or formula have a fat content of about 4% and supply the growing baby with all the essential fatty acids it needs for the first 6 months of life. Later on, as more and more milk-feedings are replaced by solid foods, many pediatric nutritionists recommend adding a few drops of oil to the baby’s home-cooked or store-bought fruit and veggie meals. This is especially important for meals that contain high amounts of fat soluble vitamins but are naturally fat free, like carrots and sweet potatoes, squash, apricots or mangoes. This way you can ensure that the vitamins can be absorbed by the baby’s body most efficiently.
Which fat is best?
Of all the oils commonly used in the kitchen, linseed or flaxseed oil (Barleans makes a wonderful Flaxseed oil!) contains the highest amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly a very important one called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This oil provides a for us ideal ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids: The right combination of these essential fats has been linked to maintaining a healthy heart, brain, bones, and cardiovascular system. Linseed oil can also help with digestion, reduce inflammation and improve the appearance of skin and hair. Cold pressed and unrefined oils are safe for babies 1 year of age and older, and should not be used for cooking, since their beneficial components break down when exposed to heat.
Coconut oil (we love Nutiva's Organic version) has lately received a lot of praise for it’s nutritional value and health benefits, which include antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is a true all-rounder amongst the fats! Because it is not only safe to eat for babies, but also has excellent qualities as a skincare product, midwifes and lactation consultants frequently recommend coconut oil for use as a nipple cream, moisturizer, massage oil, to treat cradle cap and prevent diaper rash. Coconut oil has a relatively high smoke point, which means it is very versatile in the kitchen and can be used for cooking, baking, frying and sautéing.
Another good choice for adding fat to a child’s diet is Butter (our pick: Vital Farms Grass Fed version). It is rich in the fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K2; butter from grass-fed cows contains particularly high amounts of vitamin K2. It provides a wide variety of fatty acids, some of which promote satiety, regulate cholesterol levels and improve the fat burning metabolism. The fatty acid butyrate acts as an anti-inflammatory and protects the digestive system. For this reason, full-fat dairy products have recently experienced a comeback as “health foods”.
Margarine and other hydrogenated fats and oils on the other hand, should be carefully avoided. Hydrogenation is a chemical process which changes the composition of fat molecules in order to turn liquid oils into a solid form. This process results in trans fats, which have a negative effect on heart health, cholesterol levels and the cardiovascular system.
Because adding oil to pureed baby foods will alter their shelf-life, only add a few drops ( ½ to ½ tsp) to the portion your baby is going to eat. Feeding the baby out of a separate bowl will also help to keep unwanted germs out of the of the jar or storage container. As with any new foods, please remember to always consult with your pediatrician before you make any changes to your baby’s diet, and introduce oil to your baby only in combination with a food that has already been tried and is tolerated well. Even though adverse reactions to oils are unlikely, this will allow you to observe your baby’s response to the new ingredient.
Oxford Journal of Nutrition
DGE: German association for nutrition
Mayo clinic: nutrition and healthy eating
AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)
WHO (World Health Organization)