Heart-Healthy Eating

What is heart-healthy eating?

A diet high in fat and cholesterol may contribute to the development of heart disease in adulthood. A heart-healthy diet may help prevent or treat high blood cholesterol levels. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition recommends that healthy children age 2 and older 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 not to put children younger than age 2 on a low-fat diet unless advised by your child's healthcare 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 found in foods and is usually solid at room temperature. This type of fat may raise the body's total blood cholesterol level more than other types of fat. It is recommended to limit saturated fat and replace it with unsaturated fat to help decrease the risk for heart disease. Some of the main sources of saturated fat include the following:

  • Butter

  • Cheeses

  • Fatty meats (bacon, hot dogs, ribs, sausage)

  • Chicken skin

  • Whole milk

  • Ice cream

  • Pizza

  • Grain and dairy based desserts

  • Coconut oil

  • Palm oil

What is unsaturated fat?

Unsaturated fat is a type of fat in foods and is usually liquid at room temperature. This type of fat does not usually increase the body's total blood cholesterol level when eaten in moderate amounts. Foods high in unsaturated fats which can replace unhealthy fats include the following:

  • Olive oil

  • Canola oil

  • Safflower and sunflower oil

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Peanut butter

  • Corn oil and vegetable oils

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is made by the body and found in some foods. Cholesterol found in foods is called dietary cholesterol and is found only in animal foods such as the following:

  • Meat

  • Poultry

  • Fish

  • Eggs

  • Dairy products

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. It is recommended to limit the amount of cholesterol in your diet.

Choose My Plate icon

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 made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain are grain products. Make at least half of your grains whole grains. Examples of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal.

  • Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (dry beans and peas), and starchy vegetables. Make half your plate fruits and 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. Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk products, as well as those that are high in calcium.

  • Protein. Go lean with protein. Choose low-fat or lean cuts of meat and poultry. Vary your protein routine by choosing more fish, nuts, seeds, dried beans and peas.

Oils are not a food group, yet some, such as vegetable and nut oils, contain essential nutrients and can be included in the diet in moderation. Others, such as animal fats, are solid and should be avoided. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet consisting of vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruits, and olive oil lowers the risk of heart disease.

Keeping your sodium intake to less than 2.3 grams of sodium a day lowers the risk of  a heart attack.

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 nonprocessed 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.

To find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 and to determine the appropriate dietary recommendations for your child?s age, sex, and physical activity level, visit the Online Resources page for the links to the ChooseMyPlate.gov and 2010 Dietary Guidelines sites. Please note that the My Plate plan is designed for people older than age 2 who do not have chronic health conditions.

Always consult your child?s healthcare provider regarding his or her healthy diet and exercise requirements.

Guidelines for decreasing fat intake:

  • Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Bake, broil, or grill foods instead of frying.

  • Choose low-fat meats such as chicken, fish, turkey, lean pork, and lean beef (meat without visible fat and without skin).

  • Limit high-fat meats such as sausage, bacon, hot dogs, salami, pepperoni, bologna, and fried meat.

  • Use fruits as dessert instead of high-fat desserts (for instance, ice cream, cake, cookies).

  • Limit amounts of added fat such as margarine, butter, oil, salad dressing, and mayonnaise.

  • Use low-fat or fat-free products such as milk, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, and ice cream.

Food adjustments

Consider the following examples of food for healthier eating:

Food Product Category

Eat Less

Eat More

Meat and meat substitutes, poultry, fish, dry beans, and nuts

Regular beef, pork, lamb, regular ground beef, fatty cuts of meat

Poultry with skin, fried chicken

Fried fish

Regular lunch meat (bologna, salami, sausage, hot dogs)

Beef, pork, lamb, lean cuts (90 percent lean, well-trimmed before cooking)

Poultry without skin

Fish, shellfish

Processed meat prepared from lean meat

Dry beans and peas

Tofu and tempeh

Nuts and seeds


Fried eggs in butter

Egg whites

Egg substitutes

Dairy products

Milk: whole and 2 percent milk

Yogurt: whole milk types

Cheese: Regular cheeses (American, cheddar, Swiss, blue, Monterey Jack, cream cheese)

Frozen dairy desserts: regular ice cream

Milk: nonfat (skim), low-fat

Yogurt: nonfat or low-fat

Cheese: low-fat or nonfat types

Frozen dairy desserts: low-fat or nonfat ice cream, low-fat or nonfat frozen yogurt

Fats and oils

Butter, lard, shortening, bacon fat, regular mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, salad dressings, coconut oil, palm kernel, palm oil, and products with and trans fats

Unsaturated oils: safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, canola, olive, peanut

Low-fat or nonfat mayonnaise, margarine, sour cream, cream cheese, and salad dressings


Refined grains (white flour, white rice), biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, breakfast pastries, doughnuts, waffles, granolas, fried rice, and packaged pasta and rice mixes

Whole-grain breads, pasta, rice, and cereals

Vegetables (dark green, red and orange, legumes, beans and peas, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables)

Vegetables fried or prepared with butter, cheese,cream sauce; or salt, olives

Fresh, frozen, or canned, without added fat, salt or sauce

Fruit (whole, cut up, pureed, and 100 percent fruit juice)

Fried fruit or fruit served with butter or cream sauce

Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried


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