(Health Secrets) The common wisdom today, supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is that consuming fat makes children fat, and the best way to prevent overweight children is to switch them to low fat or skim milk by the age of 2. But recent research is showing this truism is turning out to be false, and it is putting an entire generation of children at risk of failing to reach its full potential.
Research using data from 10,700 U.S. children examined at age 2 and 4 years has found that drinking milk with fat removed was associated with higher body weight. And children who drank skim milk had a higher weight gain than did children drinking 2% low fat milk. This relationship was consistent across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
According to Dr. Mark DeBoer, co-author of the study, “We were quite surprised” at the outcome. He and his teammates had counted on getting results in line with current thinking.
This study was done at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, a companion to the British Medical Journal. Surprising as these results may seem to some, earlier studies found similar results.
Researchers from Children’s Hospital in Boston discovered in 2010 that higher intakes of whole milk by two year olds were associated with lower body mass index (BMI). They concluded that switching from whole milk to reduced-fat milk at 2 years did not appear to prevent weight problems in early childhood.
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found in 2005 that dietary calcium as well as skim and reduced fat milk were associated with weight gain, but dairy fat was not. This study investigated children age 9 to 14. The team was surprised here too, expecting the opposite results.
In light of these studies, where are all the recommendations to restore full fat milk to children’s diets?
Why children need full fat mil
One look at the constituents of breast milk makes it immediately clear that fat is a critical component for the young growing human. Breast milk from a healthy mother contains 50 to 60 percent fat. The cholesterol from breast milk supplies an infant with close to six times the amount most adults get from food.
In China and some other parts of the world, a new mother is given a diet very high in animal fat, including 6-10 eggs a day along with large servings of meat for at least a month after her delivery. This ensures she will have the important high level of fat in her breast milk.
A study from the U.K. found that a gathering body of evidence shows breast feeding for longer than 6 months has protective effects against obesity, further suggesting that exposure to a high fat diet is what nature has in mind for young people and probably all people.
The human brain itself contains about the same amount of fat found in breast milk, 60%. This level of fat is needed to maintain all that nerve tissue, and to supply hormones. Since growth hormone is what powers the growth and development of the infant and child, having optimal levels of fat is critical.
Growing children use tremendous amounts of fat as fuel for energy as well as building blocks. The notorious ‘bad diet’ of growing children and teens makes us cringe because it is loaded with high fat items such as pastries, hot dogs, ice cream, French fries and pizza, but those who eat this diet during their growth years are simply doing what their bodies have been programmed by nature to do.
Many children whose fat intake has been restricted crave fat and will do anything to get it, including sneaking such things as butter, cream and raw bacon fat from the refrigerator when parents aren’t looking.
The fat found in whole milk contains an important nutrient, known as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). A mountain of research has shown CLA provides protection from asthma, many types of cancer, and food induced allergies.
Fat is needed to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K. Consuming fat creates feelings of satiety that prevent overeating. Animal fats are made up of short chain fatty acids and are burned as fuel rather than being stored as extra pounds.
Of course the fat content is not the only consideration when buying milk. Children should have the highest quality milk available. The best choice is raw milk from grass-fed cows. If this is not an option, the next best choice is organic milk that has not been homogenized. The milk sold in conventional supermarkets and discount stores is likely to be the product of factory farming and may contain hormones, antibiotics and other toxins. It should be avoided.
Children also need DHA
Short chain saturated fat is not the only important fat for growth and development. About 30% of the fat found in the brain is made up of long chain fatty acids, including the omega 3 fatty acid known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These are the fats that are stored in the body, with much of it found in the retina of the eye where it is needed for visual acuity.
A renown research team from Queensland found that amounts of DHA work with saturated fats to produce infant and childhood neurological development. DHA was shown to support electrical signaling and cellular communication, leading to improved memory as well as processing and learning. DHA is found in cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
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