Why Should We Eat Healthy Fats From a Young Age?

Eating healthy fats from an early age is key to preventing cognitive decline. Therefore, it’s important to understand the role of healthy fats in the body and the types of fats we should consume.
Why Should We Eat Healthy Fats From a Young Age?
Silvia Zaragoza

Written and verified by the nutritionist Silvia Zaragoza.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Even if there’s a fear of consuming fats to avoid gaining weight, they’re an essential nutrient for the proper functioning of the body. Therefore, it’s important to know why consuming healthy fats from a young age is beneficial.

First of all, they’re molecules made up of a chain of fatty acids (FAs) linked together by bonds. They’re also the main source of energy, as they provide 9 kcal per gram. Next, you’ll learn about the different types of fats.

Types of fats

On the one hand, we find saturated fats. They’re solid at room temperature because they lack double bonds. On the other hand, unsaturated fats are liquid and contain double bonds. The latter are classified according to the number of double bonds in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

There are also hydrogenated fats, better known as trans fats, whose function is to increase shelf life and give a crunchy texture. They’re usually added in bakery products, such as cookies and margarine, and are related to an increased risk of obesity and heart disease.

Bottle of olive oil and an avocado: sources of healthy fats.

Foods that contain healthy fats:

  • Oily fish: recommended consumption is two to three times a week.
  • Nuts are the ideal snack that can be consumed daily and at any age. It’s advisable to include them grounded or crushed for children up to three years of age.
  • The oil of any oleaginous fruit (olive, seeds, and coconut). You can use it for cooking or seasoning dishes to make them tastier and more palatable.
  • Avocado.
  • Seeds: it’s advisable to toast or to grind them so that they’re better absorbed.

The role of fats in the body

Fats are part of the cell wall and comprise 60 percent of the brain. Their main function is to protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and from attack by microorganisms. They help in the synthesis of bile salts and steroid hormones such as estrogens, testosterone, and all those involved in the menstrual cycle.

They also facilitate the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and reduce inflammation by regulating the secretion of cytokines and prostaglandins. Even cholesterol is a type of fat that’s essential when sun exposure helps synthesize vitamin D.

Why consume healthy fats from a young age

When we talk about ingesting fats, we’re referring to essential fatty acids. These are those fats that we’re unable to synthesize. They belong to the family of omega-3 and omega-6, among which linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid, EPA, and DHA stand out.

Reducing cardiovascular risk: the main reason for consuming healthy fats from a young age

Years ago, doctors assumed that fat intake increases the risk of heart disease as a consequence of increasing cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. However, the type of fats and the food that contains them affect the body differently.

Currently, research shows the benefits of polyunsaturated fats, as they help regulate lipid metabolism by reducing the accumulation of TG in the blood and arterial walls, and the synthesis of LDL. Moreover, they stimulate the production of HDL (the good cholesterol).

Improving the immune system

Another reason why it’s advisable to consume healthy fats from a young age is their involvement in the immune response. EPA and DHA contribute to reducing inflammation, decreasing the gene transcription of inflammatory cytokines such as IL1β, IL-6, and TNFα, and increasing IL-10 with anti-inflammatory power. They also reduce reactive oxygen species (ROS) and nitric oxide (NO).

Together with α-linolenic acid, present in seeds and nuts, these destroy pathogenic cells. They even reduce the severity of allergies.

Nuts contain folic acid.

Increased concentration: another reason to consume healthy fats from a young age

Specifically, DHA is part of the cerebral cortex, and the amount is a determining factor in IQ and academic performance. In addition, the growth and maturation of this organ occur during childhood, so it’s essential to cover its needs. These are 700 mg daily up to three years of age, 900 mg from four to eight years of age, and 1,000-1,200 mg up to thirteen years of age.

Studies show that sufficient intake of this fatty acid improves memory, performance speed of cognitive tasks, learning, and cognitive performance.

In addition, the consumption of these fats prevents and treats Parkinson’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.

On the one hand, it increases the number and functionality of dopaminergic neurons involved in movement. On the other hand, in people with schizophrenia or hyperactivity, erythrocyte DHA levels are low, so reaching sufficient levels during the fetal period reduces their symptoms and severity.

It’s important to take this into account, as any deficit during this stage is irreversible. This means that these diseases manifest themselves.

In addition, for children with attention deficit disorder, it’s necessary to give them a supplement. As a result, GA oxidation rises and, dopamine and serotonin levels rise as well. It may even be possible to prevent depression, even if there are still no clinical studies to prove it.

So, why’s it important to consume healthy fats?

For all of the above reasons, it’s clear why it’s important to consume healthy fats from a young age. It’s also important to continue to consume healthy fats throughout your life in order to maintain a good cognitive function.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Coakley J. Lipids in children and links to adult vascular disease. The Clinical Biochemist Review. Agosto 2018. 39 (3): 65-76. 
  • Cohen Kadosh K, Muhardi L, et al. Nutritional support of neurodevelopment and cognitive function in infants and young children. An update on novel insights. Nutrients. 2021. 13 (1): 199.
  • D Wang, D; B Hu, F (2017) Dietary Fat and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Recent Controversies and Advances. Annu Rev Nutr, 37:423-46. 
  • Fundación Española del Corazón. Grasas. 
  • González H. F, Visentin S, et al. Nutrients and neurodevelopment: lipids. Update. Archives Argentina Pediatrics. 2016. 114 (5): 472-476.
  • Gutiérrez,S; Svahn, S; Johansson, M E (2019) Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. Int J Mol Sci, 20(20): 5028.
  • Healy-Stoffel, M; Levant, B (2018) N-3 (Omega-3) Fatty Acids: Effects on Brain Dopamine Systems and Potential Role in the Etiology and Treatment of Neuropsychiatric Disorders. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets, 17(3): 216-32. 
  • L. Kathleen Mahan, Sylvia Escott-Stump y Janice L. Raymon. Krause dietoterapia. Capítulo 3: Ingesta: los nutrientes y su metabolismo. 2013 España: 13ªedición El sevier. 
  • Nobili, V; Alisi, A; Musso, G; Scorletti, E; Calder; P C; Byrne C D. (2015) Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Mechanisms of Benefit and Therapeutic Effects in Pediatric and Adult NAFLD. Crit Rev clin Lab Sci, 53(2): 106-20. 
  • Stonehouse, W (2014) Does Consumption of LC omega-3 PUFA Enhance Cognitive Performance in Healthy School-Aged Children and Throughout Adulthood? Evidence From Clinical Trials. Nutrients, 6(7): 2730-58.  
  • Uauy R, Castillo C. Lipid requirements of infants: implications for nutrient composition of fortified complementary foods. The Journal of Nutrition. Septiembre 2003. 133 (9): 2962S-2972S.
  • Zhu, Y; Bo, Y; Liu, Y. (2019) Dietary total fat, fatty acids intake, and risk of cardiovascular disease: a dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies. Lipids Health Dis, 18: 91.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.