Monday, February 09, 2009


Happy Meals now can lead to heart problems later

We usually don’t equate heart disease with children. However, research over the last 40 years has shown that cardiovascular disease begins early in life and progresses throughout our lifespan.

Two studies, the Muscatine Study and the Bogalusa Heart Study, have been tracking children’s cardiovascular risk as it relates to cholesterol profiles. In both studies, 70-75% of the children with elevated cholesterol levels continued to have cholesterol elevations as young adults.

While there is clearly a genetic component to one’s risk of developing heart disease, lifestyle choices -- such as diet and physical activity -- are equally important. The emphasis on a healthy lifestyle is the key in the prevention of the development of an abnormal lipid profile.

February is American Hearth Month. This annual event is the perfect excuse to incorporate heart healthy foods at mealtimes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated dietary recommendations for children older than 2-years and adolescents. These new guidelines recommend all children over the age of two follow a diet that includes the use of low fat dairy products.

Working healthier snacks and meals into your child’s diet can be as simple as recruiting their help in the kitchen.

Children as young as two years old love to help prepare food and they like to eat the foods they help prepare. They can help wash produce, tear lettuce or snap green beans.

Three-year-olds may enjoy mixing batter, spreading peanut butter or kneading dough.
Four or five-year-olds can begin measuring ingredients, beating eggs or mashing fruit or vegetables.

Here are some heart healthy tips for kids:

 Choose low fat dairy after age two. Skim or 1% milk, low fat yogurt and cheese.
 Eat lower fat condiments (light salad dressing, mayo or sour cream).
 Use a trans-fat free light margarine instead of butter, which is high in saturated fat.
 Bake, grill or roast meats instead of frying or sautéing them.
 Limit fast food to once per month. A McDonald’s cheeseburger Happy Meal with fries and 1% chocolate milk has 700 calories, 27 grams of fat and 1060 mg sodium.

To put this into perspective, a 5-year-old needs 1,200-1,400 calories per day and 40-46 grams of fat per day.

Here are some quick and easy healthy meal and snack ideas:

 Whole wheat English muffin pizzas with low-fat mozzarella cheese (1/2 for a snack, whole muffin for a meal)
 Whole wheat pasta with broccoli and matchstick carrots with red sauce. Alternative: Reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid. Sauté fresh garlic with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil; add a pinch of sea salt and the reserved liquid. Toss with pasta and parmesan cheese.
 Turkey burgers on whole wheat buns with some veggies on the side.
 Fruit kabobs with low fat yogurt for dipping.
 Fruit smoothies.
 Low fat string cheese, “ants on a log,” edamame (soybeans in pod, found in frozen foods).
 Blueberry or strawberry muffins (cupcake size, not mega).
 Raw veggies and low fat dressing for dip.
 Applesauce or apple slices with peanut butter or other nut butter.
 Instant pudding made with skim milk.
 Sugar-free hot cocoa made with skim milk.

Wendy Kane is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes education in the Backus Hospital Diabetes Management Center. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. Email Ms. Kane and all the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog at

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