Infants and children who are breastfed get their first source of good fats through human milk. According to Lawrence and Lawrence’s “Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession”, children who were breastfed show “more advanced development” at not only 1 year, but 8 to 10 years and at 18 years. During the first year of life the brain more than doubles in weight with 85 percent of this growth in the cerebrum; 50 to 60 percent of this is lipids.
Much of this has been attributed to fatty acid and lipid components and has led to supplementation of formula with cholesterol (human milk is full of cholesterol and artificial baby milk typically has little to no cholesterol) and DHA. Lawrence and Lawrence point out, “These compounds function in a milieu of arachidonic acid, lipases, and other enzymes, and no evidence indicates that they are effective in isolation or that more is better.”
We know cholesterol is important for cell membrane function and that infants who are breastfed have higher cholesterol levels than formula-fed infants. Animal studies suggest this may protect against high cholesterol later in life. We also know that in breastfeeding, the amount of fat delivered is not static and adjusts to the baby for a customized fat and calorie milk.
As children grow, we know that foods that contain essential fatty acids remain important – sources of these include fish, flax oil, seeds, nuts and nut butters, olive oil, avocado, hummus and wheat germ all provide good fats according to Dr. William Sears’ “The Family Nutrition Book.” Obviously, eating too much fat regardless of the type of fat can cause obesity, but I find parents are mainly interested in replacing the “junk food” fats with “good fats”.
Some of my favorite good fats include coconut oil and avocado. Coconut butter/oil got a very, very bad rap for year, but it is now known that the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut milk are an energy source and that coconut has powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties. Coconut water, while not high in fatty acids per se, is high in Vitamin C, B vitamins, proteins and electrolytes. Coconut milk is now being used in the United States to make coconut milk yogurt (very good in smoothies!), coconut milk that is sold in a carton just like bovine milk (great for folks with dairy allergies) and of course our friend the young Thai coconut (the white ones with the pointed tops) are more and more readily available.
Smoothies are a great way to get coconut water, meat or milk into your kids. Coconut meat, water, lime juice, vanilla and a little sweetner can make an excellent smoothie for a snack. My personal favorite involves coconut milk/yogurt mixed with frozen mango, some honey and banana. Yum!
Avocado is another great source of fatty acids, and this can be made into a pudding by mixing it with cocoa powder,sweetner, vanilla, and coconut meat and water.