Thursday, December 13, 2007

Protecting Your Heart and Cardiovascular System - Tips for Families With Children

Make heart health a family priority! You don't have to make big changes in your family's daily routines to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Just keep heart health in mind when making small decisions about what to eat, how to get from place to place, and what is most important to your family.

Choose whole foods over processed foods.

Try to reduce foods that are prepackaged and contain a lot of added sugar, salt, or harmful fats (saturated fat and trans fat). Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish, low fat dairy and meats are good choices.

Choose to be active.

If you live close enough, walk or bike to do errands. Next time your family is deciding how to spend a weekend or evening, choose something active - take a bike ride, go swimming, play a family game of soccer, or just have a dance party at home!

Cut down on TV time.

Television viewing is associated with being overweight. Why? Possibly because television is a sedentary activity, TV commercials promote mostly unhealthy foods, and watching TV takes away from time that could be spent playing and other physical activity. Keep your kids active and healthy by limiting their television time, especially during meals.

Eat fish twice a week.

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice per week. Fish contains healthy fats and lots of other nutrients. Offer your kids to a variety of fish, including fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut.

Replace treats with healthy snacks.

Snacks are a big part of most kids' diets. Make sure to offer healthy snacks instead of easy fillers like chips, soda, candy and other sweets. Think of snacks as mini-meals. Offer foods from two or more food groups and use whole, minimally processed foods when possible. Try whole grain crackers and cheese, vegetables with dip, nuts and fruit, or half a sandwich.

Watch out for extra calories from drinks.

Many kids love sweet drinks like soda and fruit punch. The problem is that it's easy to drink too many calories from these good tasting beverages. Plus, most sweetened drinks contain few or no nutrients. Help your kids to choose water to quench their thirst and offer low-fat milk at meals. Even 100% fruit juice should be limited to 4-6 ounces per day for young children.

Limit fast food.

Fast food is highly processed, high in calories, and usually has lots of salt, sugar, and fat. To help create heart healthy habits in your children, choose fast food restaurants only when necessary. Make a point to enjoy meals at a slow pace instead of cramming fast meals in the car.

Don't smoke.

One of the healthiest choices you can make for your family is to not smoke. Providing the positive message that no smoking is the norm for your family will help your children make the same choice when given the opportunity.

Be involved at school.

Educate yourself about the food your child is served at school. Is there time set aside during the day for physical activity? If you feel there is room for improvement, talk to the principal or director of the school.

Writer Barbara Chevaux contributes heart health and cardiovascular disease prevention content to Chevaux has been a freelance writer for more than five years and earned a Master's Degree in Human Nutrition. Much of her professional career was in the food industry, where she researched the potential health benefits of consuming dark chocolate. HeartMart is a free website that includes information about heart disease and keys to a healthy heart, including heart healthy diets and dietary supplements such as Omega-3 fatty acids.

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