5 Tips for Heart Health in Children

story by Noelle Martin MScFN RD of Meals for Me and my Minis

When we think about “heart health”, we often think of preventing heart attacks and strokes in later years of life. But the reality is that habits start when we are very young and there are wonderful choices we can make with our children to set them up for a lifetime of health.

Here are five ways to set your child up for success!

1) Physical Activity: It is recommended that children are physically active at least 60 minutes per day. Recess time at school and extracurricular activities are wonderful but family activity time is incredibly important too. This is when we as parents model the behaviors we hope they develop into habits. And the best part is that it provides fun time together where conversations can flow and imaginations can run wild! Family adventure hikes, walking to a nearby grocery store, family swim time, bike rides to the park, soccer in an open field, stretching or yoga before bed, and living room dance parties are other fun and simple ways to be active with your little ones.  Perhaps this Valentine’s Day you could think of a fun way to fit a family activity into your celebration of LOVE.

2) Healthy Fats: Children’s brains need fat to develop well. Offering hemp hearts as “sprinkles” on their banana, nut butter on toast, diced avocado as part of a meal or snack, and slivered almonds in their oatmeal are all great ways to help your child meet their fat needs while helping them to acquire a taste for foods that offer more unsaturated fat and less saturated fat.

3) Purple Fruit: Red grapes and blueberries offer a powerful antioxidant called resveratrol which acts in the body to help keep arteries healthy and also reduce oxidative damage, therefore reducing the risk of heart disease later in life. And as a bonus, it also helps to guard against certain types of cancers. You can offer halves grapes or blueberries as fun finger food snacks or add them to your favorite smoothie, muffin, or cereal!

4) Oats: This well-loved grain, which is available as a gluten-free option, is packed with soluble fiber. This type of fiber helps to clean up any bad cholesterol that may be running through our body. Although we are seldom concerned with high cholesterol in children, adding oats to muffins or offering a warm bowl of oatmeal or overnight oats for breakfast offers the start to a lifelong habit of including oats in their everyday choices which will serve them well for years to come!

5) Probiotics: We have abundant research to show us that gut health is directly related to our immune system and overall health. This includes heart health! Probiotics have been shown to help with blood pressure, cholesterol levels, inflammation levels, and there is even some preliminary research to say that they may help to control blood sugar levels which could help with obesity and diabetes control. While we wait for more research in this area, we can be confident that there are many benefits to including a regular source of probiotics in our children’s diets.

We hope this gives you some fun and practical ideas for setting your little ones up for a long life with a strong and healthy heart!