Ayurveda and Immunity – Feed Your Child Healthy Fats

(Last in a three-part series on Immunity Boosting Foods)
by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsSome parents are confused about fats, thinking that they should limit fats even in very young children in order to keep their cholesterol down. This can be very damaging to the child, and can even cause “wasting disease.” The brain itself is over half fat by weight. At birth a newborn’s brain contains only 30 percent of the billions of brain cells that it will need as an adult. Your child’s brain acquires 95 percent of its brain cells by age eighteen months—a phenomenal rate of growth.

This shows how essential a diet rich in fat is for the growing infant, and why fat-rich breast milk is perfectly programmed by nature to provide exactly the right kind of fat and the right proportion to fulfill this need. It also shows why infants and toddlers need more fat than adults, with infants twelve months and younger needing half their calories in fat, toddlers from one to three years needing 35 percent of their calories in fat, and from three to six years, 30 percent of their calories in fat. In contrast, adults need less than 30 percent of their diet to contain fat. Thus infants and children under three years of age need high-fat diets to grow properly, and this is best provided through mother’s milk, cow’s milk, and ghee.

Besides feeding your child’s growing brain, fat is essential for building the bones and muscles. Fats help membrane development, cell formation, and cell differentiation. Fat protects against mutations in the cells and contains antioxidants.

But it’s essential to choose healthy fats that do not raise LDL cholesterol or create other imbalances in the body.

Ghee: As we mentioned above, Maharishi Ayurveda recommends ghee as the most healthy and sattvic cooking oil and as a spread to replace butter [see a complete description of the benefits of ghee in part 2 in this series]. Here are some other healthy oils to use.

Olive Oil: Besides ghee, extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is also recommended. Other types of olive oil are heated, which destroys nutrients and increases free radical content. To prevent free radical damage, olive oil should not be heated above 302 ̊ F when cooking. This is why, in many parts of Italy, olive oil is traditionally added to pasta and vegetables after cooking to flavor the food. Olive oil can be used in bread recipes, as baking only raises the temperature inside the bread to 221 ̊ F. This is low enough to avoid destroying its positive properties.

Extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is the only commercially produced, mass-marketed oil available that has not had its properties destroyed by heat, chemicals, and refining. One of the advantages of olive oil is that it stores well in a cool, dark place, and does not lose its nutritional properties unless overheated or exposed to light.

Extra-virgin olive oil is especially good for Kapha types, because it is lighter and less fattening than other oils and fats such as ghee. It is a monounsaturated fat, does not raise blood cholesterol, and has been shown to lower cardiovascular risks. Olive oil also tastes good in salad dressings.

Coconut Oil: Although it is a saturated fat, coconut oil has a high flame point and is therefore a good oil for cooking as it does not create free radicals when heated. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids and triglycerides, which are metabolized differently than other saturated fats and can have therapeutic effects on the brain and nervous system. Its high content of lauric acid also kills harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Other healthy oils: Essential fatty acids are fats that the body cannot produce and must obtain from food. These are essential in the sense that without them, the body cannot function properly. Flaxseed oil, hemp-seed oil, safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils all contain vary- ing amounts of essential fatty acids. However, flaxseed and hemp-seed oils are extremely fragile, and their essential fatty acids are destroyed when exposed to heat, light, or air. They must be stored in the refrigerator, cannot be used at all for cooking, and should be used within three weeks of opening. Flaxseed oil is not recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda because of its heating effect on the liver. Instead, grind fresh golden flaxseed in a spice grinder and add a teaspoon to the food.

Safflower, sunflower, and sesame seed oil are polyunsaturated oils, which are low in cholesterol but create excessive free radicals, which is why they are not often recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda.

Unfortunately, most of the safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils you buy commercially (and even in health food stores) have been prepared using heat, light, harmful solvents, and chemicals, and thus are not nutritionally sound. If you do use them, make sure they are pressed mechanically without heat, light, or chemical processing and are organic and pesticide-free. Because oil becomes rancid easily, oils should be stored in opaque containers in a cool, dark place.

You may be able to find unheated, unrefined, organic oils in your health food store. Check to see if the different oils are all the same color; if so, then they have been over-processed and are harmful to the body. When processed mechanically without heat, chemicals, or light, the oils of different seeds take on different colors and hues.

Canola oil is a monounsaturated fat, but unfortunately, much of it is now genetically engineered and therefore not recommended, especially for children, unless it is organically grown (which means the seeds are not genetically modified) and processed mechanically, without heat.

Whole seeds and nuts: Healthy sources of oils and essential fatty acids for children are whole nuts and seeds. Sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds are delicious, as are blanched almonds, walnuts, and organic soy- beans (in the form of tofu, flour, or oil). They are also a good source of protein. (Cashews tend to be fatty and constipating, and should not be eaten in large quantities. Peanuts are not recommended.) Nuts are more digestible when soaked overnight, then ground and added to dishes.

Vegetables: Dark-green vegetables such as spinach, parsley, and broccoli also contain small quantities of essential fatty acids. Actually, all whole, fresh, unprocessed foods contain some amount of essential fatty acids. Avocados, for instance, are a good source of essential fatty acids. Herbs such as rosemary and thyme also contain essential oils.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

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