Fats and oils are essential for proper growth and development, especially during infancy and childhood. They are required for the proper development of the brain, the nervous system, eyes, and skin. Fats are essential for providing energy during infancy and childhood.

Generally, young children should be receiving between 30-40% of their calories from fat. Mother’s milk and most infant formulas provide 40-50% of their energy as fat. Fats are required not only as an energy source but also to provide essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) and also the fat-soluble vitamins to the body. The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Why essential fatty acids are so essential in growth years? 

These essential fatty acids are vital structural elements of cell membranes and, therefore, instrumental in the formation of new tissues in the foetus and the child. These fatty acids also play an important role in the synthesis of growth hormones, essential for proper growth and development in children.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), one essential fatty acid found in some oils, is crucial for the development of brain, nervous system and retina.

Growth Stages

Proper development of the brain and the nervous system begins as early as 6 months of age and continues throughout childhood and adolescence with spurts of development identified at 2 years of age, 7–9 years of age, and during mid-adolescence. AA (arachidonic acid), another essential fatty acid, is vital for the proper development and functioning of the brain, muscles, and liver. Both these fatty acids are also essential for skin, eye, and heart health.

The deficiency of these fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins, especially during periods of growth can cause, mental slowing, delayed milestones, skin and eye problems in children. These may also be the cause of heart problems later in life.

Studies have shown that proper intake of these fatty acids by women during pregnancy improves the birth weight, length, and body composition of the infants and helps in the prevention of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Proper intake of essential fatty acids during childhood has been shown to improve children's verbal learning ability and memory.

Sources of Essential Fatty Acids 

Some essential fatty acids are found only in animal products and algae, for example, fatty fish (tuna, salmon, fish oils), eggs, and algae are good sources of these fatty acids. Oil/seeds that contain good amounts of some essential fatty acids include flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, canola and soy. Oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, palm oil, olive oil, and coconut oil are also high in some essential fatty acids.

Sunflower Oil: 

Sunflower oil is obtained by pressing the seeds of the sunflower plant.

    1. Sunflower is an excellent source of Vitamin E, many other nutrients, and some essential fatty acids which are considered to be beneficial for the skin, and hair and help to treat sleep disorders in children.
    2. Sunflower contains an amino acid named tryptophan which is converted to melatonin in the body. Melatonin is the hormone that helps children to sleep peacefully.

Uses of Sunflower Oil:

  • Stir-frying
  • Sautéing and as
  • Salad dressing

Olive Oil: 

The health properties of virgin / extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) are attributed to the fatty acid, vitamin and polyphenolic compounds found in it.

    1. Consumption of virgin olive oil by mothers during pregnancy boosts the newborn baby’s immune system and helps against inflammatory diseases in the early stages of life.
    2. Olive oil also has been shown to promote brain development due to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids in it.
    3. The vitamins in olive oil are vitamins A, D, and Vitamin A is important for healthy eyes, vitamin D is for healthy bones and E is for healthy skin and hair in children.
    4. Some studies have shown that the consumption of olives during childhood reduces the risk of developing diseases like obesity and heart disease during adulthood.

Uses of Olive Oil:

  • Baked foods
  • Mayonnaise
  • Finger snacks and even
  • Shallow fried snacks

Coconut Oil: 

Coconut oil, contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and is one of the richest sources of lauric acid.

  1. MCTs are directly absorbed in the small intestines without undergoing any modification during digestion. For this reason it can be used as a primary source of energy for children, especially those suffering from malnutrition or any problems related to the digestive system.
  2. The fats in coconut oil are cardio-protective, meaning they do not cause any heart-related diseases and do not increase blood cholesterol levels.

Generally, oils with a smoke point above 2000 C are better suited for frying but as the smoking point of coconut oil is around 1770 C, some of the best uses of coconut oil are:

  • Shallow frying
  • For salad dressings and
  • For making salad dressings and mayonnaise

Corn Oil: 

Cold-pressed corn oil may have a lower smoke point, but possess monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that have various health benefits.

    1. Corn oil is a good source of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which may be helpful in the brain proper development.
    2. It also contains flavonoids and carotenoids, which are good for the eyes and the skin.
    3. Corn oil also contains vitamins E, A, and xanthines in some amounts, which have many health benefits.
    4. It contains phytosterols and linoleic acid, which may promote heart health. 

Uses of Corn oil: 

  • Sautéing and frying
  • Baking cakes, bread and for other baked foods

     Palm Oil: 

    Palm oil is derived from palm

      1. Palm oil contains palmitic acid, an essential fat for infant development that is also found in breast milk. This is why palm oil is easily assimilated by infants and children.
      2. It is absorbed more effectively and assists in rapid growth and development of the brain and the nervous system in young children.
      3. Palm oil is a good source of saturated fatty acids, which is important for the formation of nerves in infants and children.
      4. It also contains vitamin E and beta-carotene. Adding red palm oil to the diets of children or during pregnancy reduces the risk of vitamin A deficiency leading to better This is because red palm oil has high amounts of β-carotene.

    Uses of Palm Oil:

    • Frying
    • Baking foods

    Dietary fats should not be restricted for children under the age of two years, as this is a critical time for brain development, for which fat is essential. They are important sources of energy and essential fatty acids and vitamins vital for the proper growth and development of children.

    Apart from uses in cooking, these oils can also be used for skin and hair care, in moisturizers, and as oils for nourishing the hair. Some of these oils, such as coconut oil, have antifungal and antibacterial properties. Olive oil is used for making certain medicines, beauty and massage products. Similarly sunflower oil can be used to remove dark circles from under the eyes.

    Ms Sunita Roy Chowdhury, Senior Nutritionist, Dietician and Nutrition Educator 
    Healthynudgez and Guiding Stars Open Learning Academy,
    Under the banner of SS Guiding Stars Pvt. Ltd.


    At Multano we are passionate about helping people make their lives healthier and happier. All information provided in this article is researched and authenticated by qualified experts. We are dedicated to providing reliable and accurate information to our readers.   However, please use the information provided here with discretion. Any changes in medication/diet must be done with the approval of your treating medical practitioner/Dietician only.