Foods that Can Help Lower Cholesterol in Children
Regular health care, good nutrition, exercise, and weight control can help lower cholesterol levels in children. High cholesterol in children can lead to heart disease, which increases the risk for heart attack later in life.
High cholesterol may run in families. Consult with a health care provider to determine if other family members should have a cholesterol test.
Lowering cholesterol levels in children often requires changes in lifestyle. Ask the child's health care provider, a nurse educator, or a nutritionist for advice about how to make lifestyle changes necessary to help lower cholesterol.
Do not restrict the amount of fat in the diet of children under the age of 2 (unless directed to by a health care provider). Continue to give whole milk to children 2 years old and under. Their faster growth rate and developmental needs require more calories from fat and cholesterol.
To help reduce cholesterol levels, add more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to the child's diet. These foods contain soluble fiber, which helps block the absorption of cholesterol and fat into the bloodstream. They also contain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that can help fight disease and ensure the child's healthy growth and development.
Provide more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for the child's snacks, including the following:
- Non-fat yogurt with whole-grain, high-fiber cereal mixed in
- "Smoothies" made with fresh or frozen fruit and low- or non-fat yogurt
- Apples or bananas w/peanut butter (avoid peanut butter with added salt or hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils)
- Popcorn made with canola oil (limit salt or try salt-free seasonings)
- All-fruit popsicles
- Whole-grain, high-fiber granola bars (avoid those with sodium and hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils)
- Raw vegetables with low-fat salad dressing or low- or non-fat yogurt dip
Read Nutrition Facts labels and ingredients lists and look for foods that are low in saturated fat, low in cholesterol, and high in fiber. Avoid trans fats (hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils). For more information about food labels, talk with a health care provider, licensed dietician, or nutritionist.
Saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats all raise cholesterol levels. Saturated fats and cholesterol should be limited and trans fats should be avoided or strictly restricted.
Saturated fats and cholesterol are usually found in foods derived from animals (e.g., dairy products, meat, eggs). Limit saturated fats and cholesterol in the child's diet by following these suggestions:
- Switch to low- or non-fat dairy products.
- Serve lean meats.
- Offer fish such as salmon, trout, or herring 1-2 times per week.
- Remove skin from poultry.
- Use beans, tofu, or lentils as a protein source 2-3 times per week.
- Limit or avoid shellfish, eggs, and butter.
- Avoid liver.
Limit the child's intake of white or albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces per week. Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish due to potentially high levels of mercury. Talk with the child's health care provider or registered dietician about the safety of fish in the diet.
Trans fats are found in any foods made with hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils. The most common foods that contain trans fats include the following:
- Stick margarines
- Some peanut butters
- Most microwave popcorn
- Many pastries and other bakery items
- Many crackers, cookies, and chips
- Fast food French fries, fried chicken, and breaded chicken patties
To eliminate trans fats from the diet, check ingredients lists and avoid any products made with hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils. Also, switch the child's snacks from cookies, crackers, and chips to fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthier snack foods made with whole-grains. Avoid or limit fast food restaurants.
When eating out, ask for information about how the child's food is prepared. Encourage the child to choose foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, roasted, poached, or broiled and request that the food is prepared with a vegetable oil such as soybean, olive, canola, or corn oil.
Kids' menus often contain fried foods, so consider sharing a healthier adult entrée with the child, or split an adult entrée between two children. Avoid dishes that are fried, au gratin, sautéed, or stuffed because they are usually high in fat and calories.
The following tips can help make fast food meals lower in fat and calories:
- Choose a side salad or fruit cup instead of French fries.
- Eat only one side of the sandwich bun.
- Choose chicken over beef (broiled or grilled chicken tends to be lower in fat than beef; avoid breaded or fried chicken).
- Don't "super-size" the meal or double the meat.
- Avoid mayo and salad dressing or reduce the amount used.
- Choose water or non-fat milk over sweetened drinks.
Other tips for a more heart-healthy lifestyle include the following:
- Don't use food as a reward or punishment.
- Make the child's lunch (many school lunches are high in fats, calories, and sodium).
- If the child does eat a school lunch, look over the menu together to help make healthier choices.
- Ask the child's school cafeteria supervisor about adding more healthy choices for school lunches and breakfasts and eliminating unhealthy snack and drink choices.
- Talk with the child's school principal about eliminating vending machines that contain unhealthy foods and drinks in the school.
- To encourage physical activity:
- Walk the dog together as a family.
- Plan a hike or neighborhood walk together as a family.
- Limit TV and computer time to no more than 1-2 hours per day.
- Start a family game night with a favorite board or card game.
- Don't allow channel "surfing." Use the TV listings to choose shows ahead of time.
Encouraging the child to get daily physical playtime or exercise is essential to reduce cholesterol levels and for healthy growth and development. Check with the child's health care provider about the proper level of physical activity for the child.