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Nutrition Hotline: this issue's Nutrition Hotline discusses low-fat diets for babies and children.

QUESTION: Our family is transitioning to a low-fat (15% of calories) plant-based diet. Our 1-year-old daughter's pediatrician did not think this was a good idea for a toddler and wanted us to add olive oil to her non-dairy milk. Should our daughter be on this low-fat diet? If not, are there alternatives to adding oil to her milk since we'd prefer to use whole foods?

A.G., via email.

ANSWER: Infants and toddlers need generous amounts of fat. Human milk, the perfect food for infants, gets about 55% of its calories from fat. This level of fat is recommended from birth to 6 months with a transition to 40% of calories from fat as solid foods are added to the diet between 6 months and 1 year. Between 1 and 3 years, 30-40% of calories from fat is considered appropriate for healthy toddlers. These levels of fat are recommended to support growth, provide a concentrated form of calories, supply essential fatty acids, and promote absorption of some vitamins.

While a few studies have used slightly lower-fat diets in young children, safety studies have not been conducted of diets with less than 27-28% of calories from fat for children under 4 years of age. Adding oil to milk may not be the best idea since the oil and milk won't mix together well. Oil can be mixed into other foods such as mashed potatoes and used in cooking. Use of some oils would be reasonable since these are concentrated calorie sources and wouldn't cause choking problems as could occur with nuts and seeds.

It's also possible for the toddler to get adequate fat without using oils. Nuts could be finely ground and mixed into foods as could peanut butter or other nut butters. Chia seeds and flaxseeds are not well absorbed. Flaxseed meal is better absorbed and could be added to baked goods and smoothies. Avocado and tofu could be cubed and given as finger foods or mashed and spread onto bread or crackers.

For a typical 1-year-old toddler who needs about 800 calories, inclusion of 1.5 cups of full-fat soymilk, 14 cup of tofu, 1/4 avocado, 2 tablespoons of hummus, and 1 tablespoon of nut butter each day along with other foods would result in 30-40% of calories coming from fat. If the toddler is still breastfeeding, the soymilk could be replaced with breast milk. Distributing fat sources throughout the day will promote absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

You can find some helpful materials from The Vegetarian Resource Group on feeding young vegan children here: and here:


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Author:Mangels, Reed
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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