Low-Fat Diets Safe for Children
Jan. 28, 2000 (Baltimore) -- Some studies have shown that when people try to
switch the types of fats they consume to less harmful ones, they end up eating
more trans fatty acids, which have an adverse effect on cholesterol in the
blood. Additionally, in children, there has been concern that trans fatty acids
may inhibit the formation of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are
needed for growth and development -- especially of the brain.
But new research shows that it's safe for children to consume a
low-saturated-fat and low-cholesterol diet. "This study shows that reduced
use of saturated fat and cholesterol and increased use of vegetable oil-based
foods did not increase consumption of trans fatty acids," write lead author
Pia Salo, MD, of the University of Turku in Finland, and colleagues. The
findings are published in the January issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.
This study was part of a larger project called the STRIP study, which
followed more than 800 Finnish children since the age of 7 months. When the
children were enrolled in the study, they were assigned either to a group that
received advice from a nutritionist on their diet or to a group that did not
receive such advice. Individualized dietary counseling based on the child's
diet was provided by the nutritionist, but a fixed diet was not ordered.
Instead the nutritionist made suggestions for small dietary changes, leading
the diet toward optimal composition of a fat ratio of 1:1:1 (saturated to
monounsaturated to polyunsaturated) and fat intake of 30-35% of energy after
the age of 1 year. This is similar to diets recommended by U.S. agencies.
The children's diets were followed with the use of food diaries kept by
their parents or caregivers. Blood was drawn from a representative group of the
children and analyzed for cholesterol and its subgroups as well as other
markers found in the blood.
Children who received the advice of a nutritionist did not consume more
trans fatty acids than those who did not receive nutritional advice. In
addition, there were significant reductions in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol
levels in the children on the diet. The researchers conclude that
low-saturated-fat and low-cholesterol diets appear to be safe in children and
cause no adverse effects on growth and development. Their results were
especially encouraging since the diet was begun at such a young age.
"The intake of trans fatty acids by the STRIP children in this study is
low in international comparisons," write the authors. "Possible sources
of trans fatty acids include fried foods, milk fat, meat, snacks, and vegetable
oil-based products such as cheese and ice cream. Fried foods are used in
Finland markedly less often than in the United States and are uncommon in the
diets of 3-year-old children."