How to protect ourselves and our children from heart disease

You may think of heart disease is a problem just for adults. WRONG!

Obesity can affect 1 out of every child in the western world.

Diet and exercise habits started in childhood can begin a lifetime of heart health . . . or a lifetime of heart damage.

Some of the causes of adult heart disease - that start in childhood and can be prevented are:

  • Obesity

  • Build-up of plaque (or fat deposits) in the arteries

  • Unhealthy changes in cholesterol levels

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke

  • Lack of physical exercise (sedentary lifestyle)

  • Unhealthy diet

Although it’s true that heart disease risk can run in families, a healthy diet can help every child reduce heart disease risk. A balanced diet is important for children and teens, not just to prevent heart disease, but also to encourage healthy growth and development.

A diet that prevents heart disease contains two important parts.

The first is keeping daily calories at the right level. Eating too many calories can cause weight gain. This is hard on the heart.

The second is limiting fat, especially saturated fats. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature.

Here are guidelines for creating a heart-healthy childhood diet:

  • Breastfeed infants as long as possible. Aim for a full year, even as you introduce solid foods.

  • Feed your child mostly fruits and vegetables, with whole grains, lean protein and oat or nut milks.

  • Don't eat fast food. If you do eat out, make healthy choices such as plant-based sandwich on wholemeal bread - instead of a bacon cheeseburger. Oh and don’t forget to be mindful of portion sizes. The more we eat, the more we want to eat.

  • Don't give your children sugary drinks. Instead, serve water with added fruit and vegetables such as blueberries and cucumber to flavour.

  • Total fat should be no more than 30% to 35% of total daily calories for children 2 years to 3 years old and 25% to 35% of calories for those up to 18 years old. Choose healthier fats: the mono- and polyunsaturated fats.

  • Choose whole grains like brown rice over refined grains like white rice for added nutrients and fibre.

  • Don’t require children to finish everything on their plate. Allow children to tell you when they feel full and are done.

Healthy lifestyle, healthy heart

Many daily choices that children and teens make affect their heart disease risk. Here are some choices you can encourage your children and teens to make that will help protect their hearts:

  • Get about 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week in childhood. This can be broken up throughout the day into 2 or more periods of activity.

  • Since many kid’s trade being active for sitting in front of the television or a computer, keep screen time limited to less than 2 hours per day.

  • Don’t expose your kids to cigarette smoke.

Remember that you are the most important role model for your kids. Your children and teens will learn their best heart healthy choices by watching you.