February is National Heart Health Month, dedicated to celebrating healthy heart habits, raising awareness about heart disease and increasing knowledge about prevention.
To a young child or teen, learning and practicing good health and hygiene (brushing teeth, hand washing, and healthy eating habits) are life skills that foster physical and mental development. Cultivating positive food habits begins with recognizing which foods are most beneficial and having those foods available during meal and snack times.
For a recap of heart-healthy foods that work specifically to lower risk for heart disease or help promote heart health see below:
- Whole grains: such as whole grain cereals, whole grain breads, whole grain (brown) rice, or whole grain pasta
- Fiber: found in vegetables, fruits, whole grain products. Note: juice does not contain a significant source of fiber
- B vitamins: (found in meats, whole grains, vegetables, and nuts)
- Monounsaturated fats: found in olive oil, nuts, and unprocessed peanut and/or almond butter
- Soy protein: found in tofu, soy-milk, edamame, soy-based foods such as meat alternatives, and soy-based nutrition bars
- Omega-3 fatty acids: found in seafood, fish oil, or fortified foods. For children who don’t like to eat fish, fruit-flavored omega-3 supplements such as gummy bears or pudding-like supplements are available. See http://www.coromega.com/ for examples.
Secondly, families who regularly eat meals together tend to eat more balanced, healthier meals. Research shows that a child's preference for certain foods is dependent on the foods availability in the home. For example, children raised in homes where fruits and vegetables are readily available are more likely to prefer these foods.
So, planning ahead and having heart-healthy foods available at mealtimes are powerful ways to nurture good nutrition habits that continue through adulthood. You’re never too young (or too old) to make dietary changes that can influence the course of a diet- and lifestyle-related disease.
Contributed by Leslie K. Kay-Getzinger, MS, RD, Regional Dietitian for Nutrition Management Services
(Image from Heartstrong)