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Sugar, Salt, Fat: How Much is Apt?

A balanced diet is key to healthy eating. There is lots of chatter about how sugar, fat and salt are bad. This is true to an extent. Enjoying all foods and beverages sensibly, in moderation, is part of a healthy diet. Focus on meeting the unique nutritional needs of children, which are different from adults.

Avoiding total fat, saturated fat, trans fats and cholesterol is wise for adults but generally not for children less than two years. Fats supply energy and play a vital role in a child’s diet for growth and activities. Fats should make up less than 30 per cent of your child’s total daily calories. No more than one-third of these fat calories should be from saturated fats, which tend to be derived from animal sources.

The main concern is that saturated fats can cause health problems later in life like heart disease. Instead, favour unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature. Some examples include corn, olive, sunflower and safflower oil. Usually, children between 12 and 24 months should drink whole milk and, beyond age two years, reduced-fat (2%) milk can be consumed. After two years of age, foods with lower fat content can be served, such as poultry, fish, lean meats, margarine, and low-fat dairy products.

Sugars in foods, either added or natural, provide fuel for energy. Humans are naturally drawn to sweet tastes so it’s no surprise children often request sugary foods and beverages. Be mindful of calories from sugar as excess can lead to weight gain over time. Sugar can also contribute to tooth decay. Minimizing foods with added sugars is ideal. Try to limit refined sugars like white sugar, sucrose, and glucose-fructose. Sugar substitutes, aspartame and sucralose, should be avoided. They have no nutritional content and may result in a habit of liking sweet foods.

What about salt? A diet with high salt can be related to high blood pressure. If possible, avoid using extra salt and use herbs, spices and lemon juice for flavour enhancement. Many processed foods contain high salt content so check food labels carefully. Foods to watch out for are processed cheese, canned vegetables, hot dogs, pickles, canned soup, potato chips and other snacks.

You can do a lot for your child’s growth and development by providing a balanced diet and modeling healthy eating habits.


Becky Biqi Chen was a resident in general pediatrics for three years at the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre. She is currently specializing in pediatric gastroenterology during her fellowship at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital.


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