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About fat in your child's diet

6-minute read

All children need some fat in their diets to stay healthy. It’s important to know where different fats are found, and how to make good choices.

Your baby’s first food is breast milk or formula. The fat in breastmilk or formula is important for your baby’s growth.

For older children, fat gives your child energy and essential nutrients for growth and physical activity.

Some types of fat are essential for:

  • cells to function properly
  • healthy skin
  • getting enough of some vitamins
  • the development of the brain, nerves and eyes

But too much fat in your child’s diet can cause nutritional problems.

It can also put your child at risk of being overweight, as well as health problems later in life such as heart disease and stroke.

Fats and your child’s age

Babies get the right fats from breastmilk or infant formula.

If you give your toddler cow's milk or other types of milk they should have full fat varieties until they reach 2 years of age. Then they should change to low-fat dairy products.

Different types of fats

Some fats are useful in the body. Others can be a problem. It’s important to learn about the different kinds of fats to make healthy diet choices.

Saturated fats

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found mainly in meat and dairy products such as:

  • butter
  • cheese
  • cream
  • milk

Small amounts of these foods, as part of a healthy diet, are unlikely to cause problems, and they have important nutrients. Lean meats with the fat cut off and skin removed are healthier than fatty meats.

Butter and coconut also have high levels of saturated fat. It is best to use them occasionally or not at all.

Reduced-fat dairy products might also be better than regular dairy products. But make sure to read the food labels. Many reduced-fat foods have added sugar.

Saturated fats are also found in many processed foods including:

  • biscuits
  • cakes
  • chips
  • crisps / chips
  • fast foods
  • lollies
  • pastries
  • pies and sausage rolls
  • takeaway foods

Trans fats

Trans fats are formed when vegetable oils are used in processed foods. Trans fats are unhealthy and should be avoided.

Their use in Australian foods is decreasing. They are used in some pies, biscuits, and commercial cooking fats. They are no longer used in margarine.

Unsaturated fats

Most foods containing unsaturated fats are healthy options. They have proven health benefits.

Mono-unsaturated fats are the major type of fat in foods such as avocados, almonds, cashews and peanuts.

Monounsaturated fats are also found in oils made from:

  • canola
  • olives
  • peanuts
  • rice bran
  • sesame
  • soybeans
  • sunflower

These are healthy options.

Poly-unsaturated fats are the main kind of fat in:

  • Brazil nuts
  • canola oil
  • chia seeds
  • fish
  • linseed
  • margarine spreads
  • pine nuts
  • safflower oil
  • soybean oil
  • sunflower oil
  • tahini
  • walnuts

Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats are also valuable. They are found in animal products such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), eggs and seafood.

They are also found in:

  • canola
  • chia
  • linseeds
  • walnuts

Some of these foods (such as nuts) might cause allergies in some children. Read about introducing allergenic foods to your baby’s diet.

Low-fat diets for children

A diet low in fat can be healthy for children aged 2 years and older. Younger children need a diet higher in fat to support their growth and nutritional needs.

If you choose low fat foods for your child, also check the label to make sure they are not high in added sugar.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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