Understanding Food Labels - Ingredient Series – Fats 101

Posted 3.16.10 | Nutrition Specialist

To start off our ingredient series, I wanted to review the basics about fats and why they are an important part of a person’s diet.

The main purpose of fats is to serve as a storage system. They can also be used as an energy source if the body is depleted of necessary carbohydrates. Fats provide more calories (9 calories/gram) than both carbohydrates and protein (4 calories/gram), but this doesn’t mean they are bad and should be avoided! As you probably know, there are both good and bad fats.

Bad Fats

Saturated and trans fats are known as the “bad fats,” as they are linked to raising cholesterol levels and are attributed to increased risk for heart disease. Examples of bad fats include butter, animal fats, fried foods, all those yummy pastries, stick margarines and shortenings. Although these fats are known as the “bad fats” they are still okay to have in moderation, so it’s not necessary to strike them completely from the diet!

Good Fats

There are two types of unsaturated fats – polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. They are known as the “good fats” and aid in lowering cholesterol levels and are beneficial in fighting heart disease. Examples of good fats include vegetable oils, avocados, peanut butter, nuts, seeds and fatty fish like salmon and trout. If you want to learn more about good and bad fats, the American Heart Association has some fun facts.


Now that we know the basics of fats, I wanted to briefly discuss triglycerides. Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. There are two types of triglycerides — Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) and Long Chain Triglycerides (LCTs). Both refer to the length of the carbon chain of a fatty acid.

  • MCTs are comprised of 6 to 12 carbon chains and are considered saturated fats. They are beneficial in the treatment of constipation or as a natural laxative and are digested more easily than LCTs.
  • LCTs have a carbon chain greater than 12 and can be monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats. LCTs have been studied and shown to repair the gut if it’s been damaged. 1

Normal fats and oils contain LCTs and MCTs. Both types of triglycerides are beneficial and should be incorporated into your child’s diet.


Next, I wanted to touch on DHA and ARA which has been a hot topic for some time now. DHA and ARA are polyunsaturated fatty acids which are naturally found in breast milk. Studies have shown that they aid in brain and vision development, and are most effective when provided in the diet for up to 6 months of age. With this, it was also found that formula fed babies were getting less DHA and ARA than breast fed babies, so now most formulas have a formula option with DHA and ARA. 2, 3, 4 This means, if your little one needs to be formula fed, now you can ensure that he or she is getting enough DHA and ARA that is needed to meet their needs!

Now that we know the basics of fats, look out for Christine’s blog next week when she will continue this topic to discuss the fats found in Neocate!

- Nita

References: 1. Warner BW, Vanderhoof JA, Reyes JD. What's new in the management of short gut syndrome in children. J Am Coll Surg. 2000 Jun;190(6):725-36.
2. Birch, EE, Hoffman, DR, Uauy, R et al. Visual Acuity and the Essentiality of Docosahexanoic Acid and Arachidonic Acid in the Diets of Term infants. Pediatr Res. 44:201-209, 1998.
3. Birch, EE, Garfield, S, Hoffman, DR et al. A Randomized Controlled Trail of Early Dietary Supply of Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Mental Development in Term Infants. Develop Med Child Neurol. 42: 174-181, 2000
4. Hoffman DR, Birch EE, Castañeda YS, Fawcett SL, Wheaton DH, Birch DG, Uauy R. Visual function in breast-fed term infants weaned to formula with or without long-chain polyunsaturates at 4 to 6 months: a randomized clinical trial. J Pediatr. 2003 Jun;142(6):669-77.

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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.