By now most of us have heard that a diet high in fat and cholesterol may contribute to the development of heart disease in adulthood, and that a heart-healthy diet may help prevent or treat high blood cholesterol levels. But did you know The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition recommends that healthy children age 2 and older also follow a diet low in fat (30 percent of calories from fat)? These are the same recommendations for healthy adults. A diet high in fat, especially saturated fat, may increase your child's risk for heart disease and obesity in adulthood. It is important to teach your child about healthy eating so that he or she can make healthy food choices as adults.
It is important to note that you should not put your child younger than age 2 on a low-fat diet unless advised by your child's health care provider. Children younger than age 2 need fat in their diets to promote appropriate growth and development.
What is saturated fat?
Saturated fat is a type of fat that is found in foods. This type of fat may raise the body's total blood cholesterol level more than other types of fat. Most saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Some foods high in saturated fat include butter, cheese, cream cheese, bacon, fatty meats, chicken skin, whole milk, ice cream, coconut oil and palm oil.
What is unsaturated fat?
Unsaturated fat is a type of fat that is found in foods. This type of fat does not usually increase the body's total blood cholesterol level when eaten in moderate amounts. Some foods high in unsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, corn oil and vegetable oils.
Plant foods (grains, fruits, and vegetables) do not contain cholesterol. If the body's blood cholesterol gets too high, then cholesterol may build up in the blood vessels and cause damage.
Making healthy food choices
The Choose My Plate icon is a guideline to help you and your child eat a healthy diet. My Plate can help you and your child eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat. The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the following food plate to guide parents in selecting foods for children age 2 and older.
The My Plate icon is divided into five food group categories, emphasizing the nutritional intake of the following:
- Grains. Foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain are grain products. Examples include whole wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal.
- Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), and starchy vegetables.
- Fruits. Any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut up, or pureed.
- Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Focus on fat-free or low-fat products, as well as those that are high in calcium.
Protein. Go lean on protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine—choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.
Oils are not a food group, yet some, such as nut oils, contain essential nutrients and can be included in the diet. Others, such as animal fats, are solid and should be avoided.
Exercise and everyday physical activity should also be included with a healthy dietary plan.
Nutrition and activity tips:
- Try to control when and where food is eaten by your children by providing regular daily meal times with social interaction and demonstration of healthy eating behaviors.
- Involve children in the selection and preparation of foods and teach them to make healthy choices by providing opportunities to select foods based on their nutritional value.
- For children in general, reported dietary intakes of the following are low enough to be of concern by the USDA: vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Select foods with these nutrients when possible.
- Most Americans need to reduce the amount of calories they consume. When it comes to weight control, calories do count. Controlling portion sizes and eating non-processed foods helps limit calorie intake and increase nutrients.
- Parents are encouraged to provide recommended serving sizes for children.
- Parents are encouraged to limit children’s video, television watching, and computer use to less than two hours daily and replace the sedentary activities with activities that require more movement.
- Children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days for maintenance of good health and fitness and for healthy weight during growth.
- To prevent dehydration, encourage children to drink fluid regularly during physical activity and drink several glasses of water or other fluid after the physical activity is completed.
For more information visit www.ChooseMyPlate.gov. Please note that the My Plate plan is designed for people older than age 2 who do not have chronic health conditions.
And always consult your child’s health care provider regarding his or her healthy diet and exercise requirements.