Nutrition counseling cuts kids' saturated fat intake

January 28, 2004 in Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News

Nutrition counseling cuts kids' saturated fat intake

Nutritional counseling for families can cut the amount of saturated fat in young children's diets without depriving them of needed nutrients, a study in Finland shows.

The study followed nearly 500 children to the age of 10. Researchers found that periodic advice from a nutritionist, starting when children were 8 months old, helped families cut their children's intake of saturated fat - the type of dietary fat tied to high cholesterol and heart disease. At the age of 10, these children were still eating less saturated fat than their peers whose families did not receive similar counseling. The hope is that these eating habits will last a lifetime, and cut the risk of adulthood heart disease.

Although fat is an essential part of children's diets, not all fats are equal. Saturated fats - found mainly in meat and higher fat dairy products - should be limited in favor of the unsaturated fats found in foods like fish and vegetable oils. Choosing leaner cuts of meat also reins in saturated fat intake. Experts advise that children age 2 and older get no more than 30 percent of their daily calories from fat, while babies and toddlers can get more.

Kids in the counseling group consistently met the 30 percent recommendation from the age of 4 on. They also ate less saturated fat, and more polyunsaturated fat, than children in the comparison group. In addition, there was no evidence that cutting out saturated fats caused a deficiency in any vitamins or minerals. In fact the researchers note that children in the counseling group had higher intakes of some nutrients.

Some past research has shown that fat-restricted diets, shunning certain foods, might deprive children of some nutrients; one study showed that when parents devised a low-fat diet for their children without professional advice, their children ended up getting less vitamin E and zinc than other kids their age. Those researchers advised that parents not try to impose fat limits on their children without the help of a pediatrician or dietitian.

In the new study, families had a session with a nutritionist every couple of months until the child was 2, and twice a year thereafter. The nutritionist advised parents to favor unsaturated fats and leaner meats over foods high in saturated fat, and encouraged them to serve fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

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