The diet of Spanish children is high in saturated fat, but deficient with respect to international recommendations for essential and polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is part of the cells of the brain and the retina and is essential for cognitive and visual development; according to a work published in «Nutrients», developed within the framework of the Nutritional Study in the Spanish Child Population (EsNuPI), carried out by the Spanish Nutrition Foundation (FEN) and the Ibero-American Nutrition Foundation (FINUT).
However, the authors of the research observed that children consuming fortified infant formula had a healthier profile of fat consumption, with intakes closer to the recommendations of total fat, saturated fatty acids, essential fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids and Specifically, intakes 4.5 times higher of omega-3 DHA.
Specifically, fortified infant milks are continuation, growth milks, fortified or fortified with a nutrient to suit the specific nutritional needs of a specific group of the population, such as infants, young children (1-3 years), preschool-age children or children of age school (6 years).
According to the EsNuPI Study, these fortified milks, which normally contain less saturated fat and are enriched with polyunsaturated fatty acids of the omega-3 series, mainly eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and DHA, such as the so-called growth formulas, represent an opportunity to improve the profile of consumption of children’s fat.
“An adequate fat intake in infant food is essential to ensure a good energy intake, as well as proper physical growth and the development of essential organs such as the brain,” explains the coordinator of the Pediatric Nutrition Unit of the Hospital Complex of the University of Santiago de Compostela and one of the authors of the work, Rosaura Leis.
As this expert has explained, the consumption of fats should account for 20-35 percent of the total energy intake, «always taking into account the minimum recommended intakes of essential fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3 and fatty acids. omega-6, and moderating saturated fat. Precisely, the EsNuPI study analyzes the habitual intake of fat in the non-vegan Spanish child population, comparing a representative reference sample with another of children consuming fortified infant milk. With these data, compliance with international nutritional recommendations was evaluated and it was observed that 4 out of 10 Spanish children aged 1 to 10 years have total fat and saturated fatty acid intakes higher than recommended.
However, the sample of children consuming fortified infant milk (whose fat profile is modified) shows a better adaptation to the recommendations given by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN-FAO). In this sense, what is recommended as healthy is that saturated fat intake does not exceed 8 percent of total energy intake, and this percentage is 13 percent in the general child population and 12 percent in the group of children consuming fortified infant milk.
On the other hand, children who consume fortified infant formula also reach the healthy fat recommendations to a greater extent. In fact, this group has a higher intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 DHA, although both cohorts need improved intakes for all age groups from 1 to 10 years.
Thus, the percentage of children who meet the recommendations for polyunsaturated fats is 21.5 percent in the case of consumers of fortified infant milk, and 11.2 percent in the general child population group. “These data highlight the need for better nutritional education, both in children and in their parents, with the aim of promoting healthier dietary habits,” explains Dr. Leis.
MAIN FOOD SOURCES OF FAT IN CHILDREN’S DIET
The top three sources of total fat in the children’s diets were milk and dairy products, oils and fats, and meats and meat products. In the general child population, in the three age groups analyzed by the EsNuPI Study, the main source of DHA is fish and shellfish, followed by meat and meat products and milk and dairy products.
For children who consume fortified infant milk, milk and dairy products appear first as a source of DHA, followed by fish and shellfish and meats and meat products. “The main source of DHA in the diet is oily fish, but in many cases parents find it difficult to introduce these foods into the children’s diet as often as would be necessary to reach the recommended daily intakes,” says the doctor. Leis.
“Thus, the EsNuPI Study shows that using fortified and enriched foods such as dairy, so present and important in children’s diets, is a useful and effective strategy to help achieve adequate intakes ”, concludes the expert.