Well-intentioned parents who limit their child's dietary fat in the name of good health may be depriving their growing child of essential nutrients. In a study of children with and without high cholesterol found that unsupervised, parent-imposed low-fat diets were also lower in zinc and vitamin E compared with diets that did not restrict fat. Zinc is a mineral that is essential for growth and development and helps the immune system fight infectious diseases. Vitamin E, an important antioxidant vitamin, may also protect against certain diseases.
Researchers from Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City compared the 3-day food diaries of 34 children with normal cholesterol and 46 with high cholesterol. Before consulting a nutritionist, parents of the children with high cholesterol had reduced their fat intake to about 23% of daily calories and limited their intake of saturated fat to about 8% of calories a day. In comparison, the children with normal cholesterol consumed 17% more calories overall, of which about 35% came from fat and 13% from saturated fat.
Children with high cholesterol also consumed significantly more sugar as a result of higher intakes of carbohydrate-rich foods, which tend to be lower in fat. In both groups of children, intakes of calcium and folate were below national guidelines.
The researchers concluded that parents should not impose dietary restrictions on children, including those with high cholesterol, without the help of a trained professional. They also warn pediatricians that a diagnosis of high cholesterol and a recommendation to parents to begin cutting back on fat in their child's diet could result in nutrient deficiencies.
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