Valentine’s Day is approaching and hearts are abounding (along with delicious chocolates). In fact, the whole month of February has been officially designated Health Heart Month or American Heart Month. So one of the things I “love” to do (besides consume the chocolate, especially if it is dark and has nuts), is discuss the importance of heart health for everyone, both young and old.
Why do we need to worry about heart disease for our young ones? Because 80% of adolescents 13-18 have elevated cholesterol in this country-a statistic I find both sobering and game changing. What we feed our very young children, they learn to accept. And while one of the reasons behind the above numbers may be food choices these kids are making, how they learn to make them is our job.
Much of the material we see for heart disease is targeted to alleviate symptoms or curb what already may be in process for adults. As moms, we can see that our children never have to “go there”. And believe it or not, it can be pretty simple. Limit saturated fat. Cook with olive or other heart friendly oils. Limit processed foods and excessive fast food consumption. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. I know-been there, heard all of that before. But as much as the food industry has contributed to the obesity epidemic in our children by making products available, the parents have contributed by buying them!
Some simple changes may help and in many ways, the food industry is stepping up-a true whole grain food will provide information on how many servings of whole grain it provides on its label. And for children, depending on age and wt, it can be anywhere from 2-5 servings a day. Many pasta companies have great tasting whole grain blends, that if that’s what they learn to eat, they will find “regular” pasta bland. My own extremely picky 6 year old has turned down white bread in favor of wheat since that is all I ever gave him! Check your cereals and make sure at least 3 grams of fiber per serving is allowed. Pile on the berries, raisins, or combine two or more cereals if you need to.
So have a great Valentine’s Day with your little loves, enjoy some “sweets” and take care of your hearts!
Laura Zurita is a Montgomery County mom to a 6 year old, and wife to a picky eater. She is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. Her and her family love reading, hiking and are avid Phillies baseball fans.