Heart healthy eating starts in infancy

If you're young enough to be thrilled about a school snow day, chances are you rarely think about how your food choices affect your health. Until your doctor notices your blood pressure is creeping up, or your cholesterol levels are rising, or a family member or good friend has a heart attack or stroke most of the time we ignore our cardiovascular system.

February is American Heart Month, a perfect time to make changes to promote heart health for ourselves and our children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 out of every 4 deaths in the United States is due to heart disease. Cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, is also the leading cause of disability. Cardiovascular disease starts developing early in life, and just as we teach our kids to cross the street safely, we can also teach them nutritious eating habits to promote lifelong health.

Incorporate these 4 ideas to improve the heart health of your entire family, in February and throughout the year.

Breastfeed babies for their first year and gradually transition to solid foods between age 4-6 months. Research from the Framingham Heart Study shows that middle-aged adults who were breastfed as infants are 55 percent more likely to have healthy, heart-protective levels of HDL cholesterol.

Avoid overfeeding or forcing a baby or child to finish meals if he or she isn't hungry by learning to read your child's hunger and fullness cues. We're born knowing when we're hungry and also when we're full, and overfeeding babies dramatically increases their risk of becoming overweight or obese adults, developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Avoid labeling your child a picky eater and only giving them food they like. Ellyn Satter, a respected nutritionist and family therapist, recommends in her book Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense "don't limit your menus to just the foods you know your child will like. One good strategy is to include one food she likes with each meal." When children try a variety of foods several times, and see their family enjoying these foods, they'll typically learn to like these foods themselves.

Include fruit and/or vegetables with every meal and snack and your children will grow up enjoying healthy foods. When our oldest son moved into an apartment in college, he was appalled that his roommates didn't eat vegetables, and made sure to stock the fridge with a variety of easy-to-eat veggies. Children learn good eating habits at home that will carry them through a healthy adult life.

Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food and fitness coach in Manchester and online at www.LynnGrieger.com. She thanks her parents for teaching her to enjoy healthy eating as a child.


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