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Cholesterol and Children (cont.)

Tips for Heart-Healthy Eating and Exercise for Children

Heart-Healthy Eating

  • Read food labels for essential information. Labels can tell you how many calories are in a food item per serving and how large a serving is. Individuals can also find out how much fat is in a serving and how much of that fat is from saturated fats (the ones to avoid).
  • Emphasize foods from 5 areas: fruit, vegetables, whole grains such as cereals and breads, beans, and fish. These are low in cholesterol (and will contribute to lowering your child's blood cholesterol).
  • If a meat dish is served, try lean meat such as skinless chicken breast. Trim off all visible fat on any meat before eating.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products such as skim milk or low-fat yogurt.
  • Avoid fats in cooking. Grill or bake. Do not fry.
  • In healthy weight children, reduce or halt intake of soft drinks and reduce the amount of fruit drinks, and low-fat snacks. Avoid these products in overweight children. These provide mainly empty calories and little or no nutrients.
  • Reduce intake of foods high in cholesterol. Cholesterol is found in dairy products (choose skim milk and fat-free dairy products), meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish such as shrimp. Especially avoid organ meats such as liver. Eggs are one example of a food that has an easy cholesterol-free solution. Substitute egg whites or cholesterol-free egg beaters. Try these in recipes that call for eggs.
  • Use liquid or tub margarine instead of butter as they are lower in saturated fat.
  • Avoid trans fats. These are a type of saturated fat usually found in cookies, crackers, baked goods, and hard margarine. Avoid the food if among the ingredients is hydrogenated oils (these are trans fats). Use soft margarine instead. Trans fat content is listed on food labels.
  • Switch your child's snacks away from cookies and crackers to fruits, raw vegetables such as baby carrots, and plain unsalted popcorn or pretzels. The best snacks are apple slices with natural peanut butter, orange sections, fruit stirred into nonfat yogurt, juice bars, sherbet, lite or nonfat popcorn, low-fat pita chips, and low-fat bagel chips.
  • Pack a healthy lunch for your child to take to school. For school lunches, pack low-fat or fat-free lunch meat sandwiches made with whole-grain bread. Low-fat cheese can be added, but a better choice would be tomato slices and lettuce.
  • Vending machines can be a dilemma. Help you child choose the lower fat versions of chips or pretzels or teach them to avoid "food in machines" entirely. Avoid using soda machines.
  • Kids are kids, and you will have trouble denying fun foods at birthday parties and school events. High-fat foods such as hot dogs, ice cream, fries, and pizza can still be part of your child's diet when balanced with other healthful foods the same day and during the rest of the week. Do not reward children with high-fat foods as this can develop into a life-long dietary habit.
  • Use breakfast as a time to select high-fiber foods such as cereals (with skim or 1% milk) and whole-grain breads for toast. Fruit such as an apple will have more fiber than apple juice, so opt for the fruit and not the juice.

Exercise for Children

Increased physical activity, such as biking, running, walking, and swimming, may be useful for improving dyslipidemia in children and adolescents. Physical activity primarily affects HDL and triglyceride concentrations, but improvement of LDL concentration has also been documented. Although there have been few randomized clinical trials to document the effects of physical activity as a specific intervention for children and adolescents, supportive data are available from epidemiologic studies. Exercise combined with a healthy diet definitely helps prevent obesity. See if your child is interested in team sports. Lobby for recess activities and physical education classes in your child's school.

Medically reviewed by Margaret Walsh, MD; American Board of Pediatrics


American Acadamy of Pediatrics.

MedscapeReference. Pediatric Lipid Disorders in Clinical Practice.

NIH Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Low-Calorie Step 1 Diet.

NIH Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Low-Calorie Step 2 Diet.

Previous contributing authors and editors: Author: William Winter, MD, Professor, Departments of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Pediatrics, University of Florida College of Medicine. Coauthor(s): Desmond Schatz, MD, Professor, Medical Director of Diabetes Center, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology, University of Florida. Editors: Alan D Forker, MD, Program Director of Cardiovascular Fellowship, Professor of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Medicine; Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD, Senior Pharmacy Editor, eMedicine; Michael E Zevitz, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, Chicago.

Last Editorial Review: 3/23/2015

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