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Tips for Heart Health

LaurieAnn Scher, MS, RD from our Pediatricians office offers these heart healthy tips for February’s American Heart Month. Feeding your child (and self) for a healthy heart is essential year round, but the focus during this last month of winter allows you to take stock of your habits and make plans for the rest of the year. Remember lasting changes occur over time so start with small changes to the basics. Children will eat what is available to them and if you keep heart healthy foods around, that is what they will eat. Keep in mind as well that children will want to eat what you eat so it is important to set a good example.

So what should you stock in your home?

• After 2 years of age, most children can drink 1% milk (if your family tends to gain weight easily or you have a family history of heart disease you can even use skim milk). In addition low fat yogurts, cheeses and yogurt drinks are nutritious choices that satisfy children’s appetites. If a child is lactose intolerant, use lactose free foods or soy products that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
• Foods that are high in soluble and insoluble fiber are satisfying and filled with vitamins and minerals plus they are great for the heart. Choose fruits and vegetables of all different colors and wholesome foods like whole grain breads, brown rice, oats and oatmeal along with the lesser known grains like millet, barley, quinoa and buckwheat. To make fruits and vegetables more likely to be eaten, cut them up and leave them visible on the shelf in the refrigerator. If they are just as easy to grab as other snack foods, they will be eaten. Even though it takes a while to prepare fruit salad or cut up vegetables, when you see your child enjoying them, it will be well worth the effort. Fruits and vegetables should be offered at every meal and snack, keeping frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer will make that goal easier to achieve.
• Fish is a great source of protein and the cold water fishes (salmon, trout, arctic char for example) are mild fishes high in omega three fatty acids that children may eat after a few tries. In addition, lower fat cuts of meat like sirloin, tenderloin, flank steak and eye of the round, skinless poultry (turkey or chicken breast is the lowest in fat) and soy products like tofu, tempeh and edamame are also great choices. Finally choose eggs that are sources of omega three fatty acids to provide a healthier egg option.
• Olive oil and canola oil are the best choices to use for cooking, baking and salads. Nuts, nut butters and seeds are great sources of vitamins, minerals, good fats and oils, fiber and phytonutrients. If you tend to use butter on your food often replace or supplement it with a soft margarine spread made from plant oils.
• Limit high sodium foods and choose lower sodium choices to keep in the house. The more a food is processed, the higher its sodium content, so choose fresh or frozen foods over canned.
• An article about heart health in February would be incomplete without a mention ofdark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains phytonutrients that may actually be good for the heart (of course, research is still being done on this). Since it is high in saturated fat and calories, you need to help your child consume it in moderation. Dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) and cocoa powder have strong chocolate flavors so a small amount will satisfy that chocolate desire, which is great, since it should be consumed in moderation and not allowed to replace the healthy foods in your child’s diet.
• Remember food is not only about eating for health; it is a way to connect families and celebrate holidays and milestones. So in this month that celebrates your heart…”Love” what you eat and try these heart healthy treats for a fun Valentine celebration.

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