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heart healthy

In honor of Heart Month, today we will be covering how to prevent heart disease in children and young adults.

 To start off with, it would be beneficial to define heart disease. Heart disease is a blanket term for several conditions- which are related to the process of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis happens when plaque builds up in arteries. This in turn makes it harder for blood to flow through the vessels and as the plaque buildup continues; it can completely cut off the blood flow or the plaque can break off thus resulting in a heart attack or stroke. Heart disease also includes heart failure, arrhythmias (abnormal beats) and heart valve problems. The scary thing is, there are NO symptoms of atherosclerosis, and most people don’t even know they are affected until they are faced with a medical emergency! While some types of heart disease can be genetic, there are MANY ways to reduce your family’s risk.

So what would increase your child’s risk for heart disease? Well, the answer is multifaceted: emerging research is showing us that children with higher BMIs have an increased risk of coronary heart disease in adulthood.  Other factors that have been found to cause heart disease are secondhand smoke, high blood pressure, inflammation in the blood vessels, high dietary amounts of unhealthy fats, cholesterol and elevated sugar in the blood. This can be due to insulin resistance and/or diabetes (all types).

Now that we know what heart disease is and what causes it, lets get into how to prevent this ugly disease!

  1. A wide variety of foods should be eaten. Focus on a well-rounded diet encompassing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats/fish, and low fat dairy products. Avoid processed foods and foods that come in boxes. Try and eat foods in their most natural state! If a child is over 2 years old milk alternatives are a good way to reduce saturated fats but make sure you are sticking to the unflavored versions.

  2. Replace the unhealthy saturated fats (from animal products) with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (from vegetable and fish sources).Try to avoid trans-fat all together; it can also hide under the name of hydrogenated vegetable oil. (Often found in peanut butters). For children it is important to have fats as a source of energy for growth and development, so instead of placing them on a low-fat diet focus on reducing saturated fats and increasing the healthy fats. Healthy fat would be olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado.

  3. Reduce salt intake by avoiding table salt and choosing fresh or frozen foods. Remember processed foods will be higher in sodium and unhealthy fats.  This will be especially important for the children and adults struggling with high blood pressure.

 Here are some easy ideas to help improve your family’s heart health:

  • Replace cake, pies and pastries with cut up fruit served with a dollop of whipped cream

  • Replace bacon with low-sodium turkey bacon

  • Replace pepperoni pizza with a vegetarian pizza

  • Replace fried chicken with grilled chicken

  • Replace table salt with herbs and spices to give flavor

  • Replace luncheon meats, hot dogs, sausage and ham with fresh meats, poultry and fish

  • Replace french fries with salad or cooked vegetables when eating out

 Sources:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2690549/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11063473
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2690549/
https://www.nutritioncaremanual.org/content.cfm?ncm_content_id=109459&ncm_category_id=13