In our piece “Skinny Kids: Boost meals for healthy weight gain,” ZisBoomBah’s house nutritionist Lisa Lanzano, MS, RD talked about why it is challenging to get kids who are too thin to eat extra calories. Their stomachs are not any larger than those of other children, so they are often unwilling to eat more. Instead of adding more mass to a child’s diet to promote weight gain, Lisa says it is essential to focus on giving him denser, high-quality nutrition — “Make every bite count,” is her motto for skinny kids.
In response, one reader was curious why Lisa would recommend that children who need to gain weight should drink 100% fruit juice instead of water. The concerned mom pointed out that fruit juice is higher in sugar content, and fructose puts more stress on internal organs such as the liver.
What’s more, even though this mom herself had previously considered feeding her skinny kid full-fat dairy products such as cheese, she was surprised Lisa, as a nutritionist, would make this recommendation, too. No wonder the mom was hesitant. She says most of the articles she has read as well as doctors and nutritionists she has talked to recommend low-fat dairy products, even when weight gain is the objective. The argument the mom has read and heard is that low fat is supposed to be safer for the heart and cholesterol levels.
So, what advice should a mom of a skinny kid take or leave, in a world where virtually any food-related information is geared toward keeping a child’s (increasing) weight in check? To find answers, we checked in with Lisa, once more, and asked her whether this mom really should go against general nutrition recommendations and feed her skinny kid full-fat dairy products and straight-up fruit juice. Here is what our expert said …
Take it from the French: Full-fat dairy products do not guarantee heart disease
“It’s true, healthcare practitioners are recommending low-fat or even non-fat dairy products, because saturated fats from full-fat dairy can contribute to heart disease, which is the number one killer in the US. But keep in mind that just because somebody is drinking a higher-fat dairy product such as full-fat milk doesn’t guarantee they are getting heart disease from that.
One of the ways to keep this in perspective is to consider the French, who use butter, cream, full-fat cheese et cetera, and they have much less heart disease than we have in the US. So it’s not as simple as the saturated fats that our media likes to portray. It’s more complicated than that. And if somebody is really trying to gain weight and wants to, on occasion, drink whole milk, that’s totally fine.
Keep in mind, too, that if you want to stick with low fat, compare the calorie difference of 80 calories in a cup of skim milk versus 150 calories in a cup of whole milk. A child would have to drink a lot more milk to maintain calories. And, of course, that volume is going to be more filling and makes it a little bit harder to get that same calorie density in. That’s why we are recommending full-fat dairy. And also, it’s not quite the villain some people like to portrait it as.
100% has more sugar, but also more calories and essential nutrients
Regarding giving skinny kids fruit juice, yes, there is more sugar, but we need to look at that picture more globally and see that it also contains more vitamin C, more potassium, more folic acid and possibly more calcium, if the juice has been fortified. It’s also natural sugar. While it is true that fructose goes through the liver for metabolism, that doesn’t stress the liver unless it is an excessively high amount, which one glass of fruit juice is not going to do. So, while you are getting more sugar from 8 ounces of orange juice than from one orange, you are also getting more calories, which helps promote the weight gain. Fruit juice has so much good nutrition to offer.”
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