In a previous blog, I talked about how a panel of health experts has drawn up new guidelines recommending that allchildren now have their cholesterol levels checked. Before now, health professionals had recommended that only those children be screened who had a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol.
The expert panel also outlined some modifications in the dietary patterns and activity levels of our children, in order to give them a better chance of becoming healthy adults.
What can parents do to help their children achieve healthier lives?
Breastfeed infants for at least 6 months, but preferably for 12 months. Long-term studies show that people who were breastfed as infants gain lasting benefits, both in lower cholesterol and in a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Serve kids 5 to 7 helpings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day. (Note: A glass of fruit juice does not count as a serving of fresh fruit.) And keep an eye on how much dressing your kids are pouring onto their salads--the creamy ones are usually loaded with fat.
Offer low-fat dairy options. Switch to low-fat milk or, better yet, skim milk. Parents can help their toddlers make this dietary shift at about age 2. (Another note: If you yourself are one of those who say, "I don't like skim milk," please don't assume that your child won't like it. In fact, at that age, they might very well not even notice the switch.)
Lower the amount of high-fat foods and toppings. Avoid butter and sour cream. (Low- or non-fat yogurt can frequently be substituted for sour cream.) Don't get in the habit of buttering your child's toast; instead, spread a small amount of jelly or peanut butter on it. Use cooking sprays in your pans.
Avoid fried foods of any kind.
Eat whole-grain foods. Think brown--like whole-wheat breads or pastas, for example. And if you never introduce white bread into your home, your kids will learn it isn't even an option.
Limit desserts and offer low-fat options. Put Popsicles or frozen yogurt on the table instead of ice cream.
For the meat course, serve fish or the white meat of chicken or turkey. Limit red meat to once or twice a week, or less. When buying red meat, look for "lean" portions.
Remember to focus on the "good" fats: Buy monounsaturated (e.g., olive oil) or polyunsaturated fats. Avoid foods heavy in the fats known as saturated, or "trans," or partially hydrogenated; these will increase cholesterol levels.
See that children get daily exercise. Experts recommend that they play/exercise for 60 minutes a day.
Do what you can to ensure they won't smoke--and don’t smoke yourself. Secondhand smoke is dangerous to your child, too.
Don't beat yourself up if you don't follow all these recommendations all of the time. Everyone has bad or crazy days. However, that said, we should all be trying to follow these healthy lifestyle recommendations in our kids' lives--and in our own.
While these new recommendations for screening children's cholesterol levels will identify the children at greatest risk for cardiovascular disease, all children will benefit from learning healthy living habits early in life.