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Why We Heart February for Kids | February 26, 2014

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.  About 81 million people in the United States have some form of heart/cardiovascular disease.  That’s about 35 percent of the population, and it is starting at younger ages.

Many of these deaths and risk factors are preventable, and food choices have a big impact on our heart’s health.  February is American Heart Month and time to think about our hearts.  Most heart disease deaths are preventable by controlling risk factors such as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, excess weight and obesity with lifestyle changes and medications.  Since many children in the U.S. already have elevated cholesterol in their teens, we need to start thinking prevention in childhood.

A healthy lifestyle – Following a healthy diet, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active most days, quitting smoking, and managing stress are the key tips to lowering your family’s risks for heart disease, and may prevent current hearth disease from worsening.

Exercise – Try encouraging your family to make these small changes.  Add some exercise to the weekly routine.  Be physically active in your own way and start by doing what you can at least 10 minutes at a time.  Children and teens should get 60 or more minutes of physical activity per day.  Encourage your family to take a walk after dinner or play a game of catch or basketball.

Eat – Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium and high in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.  Eating a well-balanced diet includes a combination of whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy.  Saturated and trans fats are found in some meats, dairy products, baked goods and deep-fried and processed foods.  Both types of fat raise your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol level.  Instead, eat more whole grains, plant proteins, fish, poultry and low-fat dairy foods.  Start cooking with oils such as olive, canola, peanut or sesame, which are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, instead of margarine or shortening, which are high in trans fat.

Include these great hearth healthy foods for your pantry:  beans, barley, oats, quinoa, whole grain rice, soy-based foods, fruits and vegetables, salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, red and purple grapes, almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios.  Include salad with every dinner.  And maybe add a little dark chocolate for dessert.

On Feb. 27, elementary schools in the Coeur d'Alene school district will be having a Hearth Healthy-themed lunch for American Heart Month.  Remind your kids to eat lunch at school that day!

Written with the help of Bekki Hampton, UI Dietetics student