As Joseph Marek and his wife, Kathy, have raised their four
children, they've been careful to instill good eating habits right
from the beginning. "The origin of heart disease starts in
childhood," he says. "And our dietary habits start when we're kids.
We eat what we're exposed to when we're children." Marek should
know. He's a cardiologist with Midwest Heart Specialists and
medical director of Young Hearts for Life Cardiac Screening
New guidelines, issued in November by the National Heart, Lung
and Blood Institute and endorsed by the American Academy of
Pediatrics, recommend first testing a child's cholesterol level
between age 9 and 11. Children with elevated levels should begin
Most people know heart-healthy eating is about reducing
saturated and trans fats by cutting back on fatty meats, sausages
and hot dogs, fried foods and full fat dairy. But did you know by
including certain foods you can improve the effectiveness of a
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical
Association found adding a portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods
to an otherwise heart-healthy diet reduced the subjects' LDL
cholesterol by about 13 percent. Those who simply lowered their
saturated and trans fat intake lowered their LDL by 3 percent.
Let's take a look at a few child-friendly foods that provide
heart benefits to the entire family.
1) Beans. These protein rich
vegetables are an excellent source of dietary fiber that keeps
cholesterol low. If you're thinking there's no way your offspring
will ever eat whole beans, consider these forms: hummus with pita
bread or crackers or as a substitute for mayo on sandwiches, black
bean dip or even fat-free "refried" beans as a side.
2) Salmon. Rich in omega-3
fats, this low-mercury fish can be microwaved, baked or grilled.
Save money by stocking up on the canned variety when it's on sale
and make salmon salad instead of tuna. Canned salmon is almost
always wild caught.
3) Popcorn. Three cups of
popped popcorn is a serving of whole grain and a tasty snack. It's
pennies per serving if you pop your own using a stovetop popper and
a little heart healthy oil like canola or even olive oil. To avoid
choking, children should be at least 4 before they are allowed to
eat it, according to a policy statement by the American Academy of
4) Nuts. While walnuts are
often touted as being most beneficial for heart health, the FDA has
approved health claims for hazelnuts, peanuts, pine nuts,
pistachios and walnuts. Nut skins are where the greatest amount of
beneficial phenols reside. Don't give nuts to very young children
to avoid choking.
5) Oats. A steaming bowl of
old-fashioned oatmeal with a bit of brown sugar and butter on a
cold winter's morning hits the spot and keeps arteries clean, too.
Or turn oats into flour by whirling them in the blender and adding
to meatballs, meatloaf, stuffed peppers and baked goods like quick
breads and cookies.
6) Soy protein. Look for soy
with minimal processing. For example, cubes of tofu are soothing to
a teething child and easy to eat. Fresh or frozen edamame that are
steamed are fun for kids to snack on, or you can add them to
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.
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