American Heart Month: Time to whip your family’s eating habits into shape

While American Heart Month is coming to an end, thinking about being heart-healthy never ends. Are you eating the right foods? Getting enough quality nutrients? Limiting the intake of the bad ones?

Keeping up with nutrition trends can be a lot to take in at times, but as parents ourselves, we know you want to be sure your family’s heart is filled with low-fat, nutrient-rich foods along with a daily dose of exercise.

However, before we share a “good foods” list we found, first we’d like to offer some recommendations from The American Heart Association on family eating patterns that are so important to keep in mind before choosing your foods.

  • Don’t overfeed your kids. Calories should support growth and development. Estimated calories needed by children range from 900/day for a 1-year-old to 1,800 for a 14–18-year-old girl and 2,200 for a 14–18-year-old boy.
  • Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.
  • Keep daily fat intake to 30-35 percent of calories for children 2-3 years of age and between 25-35 percent for kids 4 to 18 years of age. Regardless, it’s a good idea to see if most fats can come from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
  • Choose a variety of foods for a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fiber and other nutrients.
  • Be physically active everyday. While there are many opinions on how much exercise is enough, aim for 30-60 minutes per day.

Now, some heart healthy food tips:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables daily. Limit juice intake and make sure each meal includes at least one fruit or vegetable. Get creative and pick vegetables in fun colors or cut them into shapes. Add a low-fat dip if it helps your child enjoy eating the “green stuff.”
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products when possible. Increase your family’s fiber intake by adding beans to soups or side dishes and buying 100% whole wheat bread. Another great fiber source is oatmeal – a yummy breakfast kids will love. Try topping it with honey instead of sugar for a natural source of sweet.
  • Similarly, choose whole grain options for bread and rice too. Brown rice is better for your heart than white. Serve whole-grain/high-fiber breads and cereals rather than refined grain products. Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient on the food label and make at least half of your grain servings whole grain. Recommended grain intake ranges from 2 oz./day for a one-year-old to 7 oz./day for a 14–18-year-old boy.
  • Serve fish or chicken more than red meat. Avoid deep fried versions of these proteins by grilling, roasting or pan-frying instead.
  • Make your own salad dressings or buy low-fat versions. Many store bought dressings include hidden sugars.
  • Cook with vegetable oils such as olive, canola or sunflower.
  • Seeds are a great source of healthy oils. Add flax seeds to a smoothie or top of a bowl of cereal or salad with a bunch of sunflower or pumpkin seeds.
  • Nuts are good too. finds that walnuts have properties that help reduce cholesterol; almonds are a good source of fiber and potassium; pecans are full of antioxidants and all nuts have heart-healthy oils. Try spreading a bit of peanut butter on crackers, apples or brown rice cakes for a snack.

Looking for more heart-healthy food options as well as some recipes? Check out this list put together by nutrition experts from The Cleveland Clinic and the American Dietetic Association. They include many of the obvious but also some fun ones (for adults at least) such as red wine and dark chocolate.

How do you select heart-healthy foods for your family? If anyone has any great recipes to share please comment here.