Obesity rates in children have risen steadily over the past few decades and have leveled off only recently. Nearly one in three U.S. children is overweight or obese, and many of them face heart disease later in life. A key to preventing cardiovascular disease is controlling modifiable risk factors.

Sewing the seeds

Children develop their food preferences early in life; good nutrition beginning in childhood can set the stage for lifelong healthy eating. 

A diet designed for kids should follow the same principles as a heart-healthy diet for adults, but in age-appropriate portions. It is rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean protein with only moderate fat intake.

"Children mirror parental behaviors so parental adherence to a heart-healthy diet is essential in establishing lifelong healthy eating habits in their children."

Fruits and vegetables provide abundant amounts of vitamins, especially vitamins A and C, both important antioxidants that can stave off cell damage responsible for dangerous fatty build-up and inflammation of the arteries.

Hidden benefits

Low-fat dairy should be offered to promote adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Lean proteins such as legumes, fish, and chicken should be offered. Fish should be included; its Omega 3 fatty acids are believed to promote the formation of good cholesterol, while reducing the levels of bad cholesterol.

Children mirror parental behaviors so parental adherence to a heart-healthy diet is essential in establishing lifelong healthy eating habits in their children. Following these simple dietary rules can help pave the way toward a healthy heart for everyone in the family.