What is heart-healthy eating?

A diet high in fat and cholesterol may contribute to the development of heart disease in adulthood. A "heart healthy" diet may help prevent or treat high blood cholesterol levels. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition recommends that healthy children age 2 years or older follow a diet low in fat (30 percent of calories from fat). These are the same recommendations for healthy adults. A diet high in fat, especially saturated fat, may increase your child's risk for heart disease and obesity in adulthood. It is important to teach your child about healthy eating so that they can make healthy food choices as adults.

It is important not to put children under the age of 2 years on a low fat diet unless advised by your child's physician. Children under the age of 2 years need fat in their diets to promote appropriate growth and development.

What is saturated fat?

Saturated fat is a type of fat that is found in foods. This type of fat may raise the body's total blood cholesterol level more than other types of fat. Most saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Some foods high in saturated fat include the following:

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Bacon
  • Fatty meats
  • Chicken skin
  • Whole milk
  • Ice cream
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm oil

What is unsaturated fat?

Unsaturated fat is a type of fat that is found in foods. This type of fat does not usually increase the body's total blood cholesterol level when eaten in moderate amounts. Some foods high in unsaturated fats include the following:

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Corn oil and vegetable oils

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is made by the body and found in some foods. Cholesterol found in foods is called dietary cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is found in animal foods such as the following:

  • Meat
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products

Plant foods (grains, fruits, and vegetables) do not contain cholesterol. If the body's blood cholesterol gets too high, then cholesterol may build up in the heart and cause damage.

Making healthy food choices

MyPyramid.gov is a good guideline to help you and your child eat a heart healthy diet. This guide can help you and your child eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the following "food pyramid" to guide parents selecting foods for children and adults.


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Guidelines for decreasing fat intake

  • Bake, broil, or grill foods instead of frying whenever possible.
  • Choose low-fat meats such as chicken, fish, turkey, lean pork, and lean beef (meat without visible fat and without skin).
  • Limit high-fat meats such as sausage, bacon, hot dogs, salami, pepperoni, bologna, and fried meat.
  • Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Use fruits as dessert instead of high-fat desserts (i.e., ice cream, cake, cookies).
  • Limit amounts of added fat such as margarine, butter, oil, salad dressing, and mayonnaise.
  • Use low-fat dairy products such as low-fat milk, low-fat or fat-free cheese, low-fat or fat-free sour cream and cream cheese, and low-fat ice cream.

Food adjustments

Consider the following examples of food for healthier eating:

Food Product Category Eat Less  Eat More

Meat and meat substitutes

 

Regular beef, pork, lamb, regular ground beef, fatty cuts of meat

Poultry with skin, fried chicken

Fried fish

Regular lunch meat (bologna, salami, sausage, hot dogs)

Beef, pork, lamb, lean cuts

(90 percent lean, well-trimmed before cooking)

Poultry without skin

Fish, shellfish

Processed meat prepared from lean meat

Dry beans and peas

Tofu and tempeh

Eggs

Egg yolks (limit to 3 per week - includes eggs used in cooking)

Egg whites

Egg substitutes

Dairy products

 

Milk: whole and 2 percent milk

Yogurt: whole milk types

Cheese: Regular cheeses (American, cheddar, Swiss, blue, Monterey Jack, cream cheese)

Frozen dairy desserts: regular ice cream

 

Milk: nonfat (skim), low-fat, buttermilk

Yogurt: nonfat or low-fat

Cheese: low-fat or nonfat types

Frozen dairy desserts: low-fat or nonfat ice cream, low-fat or nonfat frozen yogurt

Fats and oils

Coconut oil, palm kernel, palm oil, butter, lard, shortening, bacon fat, regular mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, and salad dressings

 

Unsaturated oils: safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, canola, olive, peanut

Low-fat or nonfat mayonnaise, margarine, sour cream, cream cheese, and salad dressings

Starches, Breads and Cereals

Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, breakfast pastries, doughnuts, waffles, granolas, fried rice, and packaged pasta and rice mixes, cream soups

 

Whole-grain breads, pasta, rice, and cereals made without added fat

Reduced-fat soups

Vegetables

Vegetables fried or prepared with butter, cheese, or cream sauce; olives, avocados

Fresh, frozen, or canned, without added fat or sauce

Fat

Fried fruit or fruit served with butter or cream sauce

Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried

Comparison of typical meal plan verses low-fat meal plan

Typical menu

BREAKFAST DINNER

3/4 cup orange juice

1 cup corn flakes

1/2 cup 2 percent milk

2 regular tacos (with fried corn tortillas)

2 ounces regular ground beef

1/2 cup regular refried beans

1 ounce shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup green beans and butter

LUNCH

SNACK

 

1 double cheeseburger

1 large order french fries

2 packets ketchup

1 carton 2 percent milk

 

2 chocolate chip cookies

1 cup 2 percent milk

TOTAL:

90 g fat (41 percent of total calories)

260 mg cholesterol

Low-fat menu

BREAKFAST  DINNER

3/4 cup orange juice

1 cup corn flakes

1/2 cup skim milk

1 small banana

2 soft-shell tacos (tortilla not fried)

2 ounces extra-lean ground beef

1/2 cup fat-free refried beans

1 ounce shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup green beans with margarine

LUNCH

SNACK

1 single cheeseburger

1 regular order french fries

2 packets ketchup

1 carton 1 percent milk

1 low-fat frozen yogurt cone

3 graham cracker squares

1 cup skim milk

 

SNACK

 
 

1 medium apple

1 tablespoon peanut butter

 
 

TOTAL:

66 g fat (30 percent of total calories)

165 mg cholesterol