Nutrition to Support A Healthy Heart

30 Apr 2020

Every parent wants the best for their child, especially when it comes to their heart. Did you know that diet plays a major role in heart health? Certain foods can influence blood pressure, triglycerides (fats in the blood), cholesterol levels and inflammation - all of which are risk factors for heart disease. The good news is that you can take charge of your child’s heart health by developing habits now that will lead to long term benefits later in life. Our in-house Dietitians Anna and Alex from The Biting Truth share their 6 ‘healthy heart tips’!


1. Eat Plenty of Fibre

You’ve probably heard that fibre is important, yet many children and adults aren’t getting enough fibre in their diet. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that humans are unable to digest, and it is found in the plants we eat – fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.


The role of fibre in preventing heart disease stems from its ability to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol. Foods high in soluble fibre, such as oats, have been shown to be particularly beneficial in lowering total cholesterol levels.


Oats contain high amounts of soluble fibre called beta gluten, which forms a gel inside the intestines. Beta glucan is known to reduce blood cholesterol, however the way in which it does this has not been established. Researchers suggest the thick gel reduces the absorption of cholesterol from our diet as well as preventing the reuptake of bile acids which are essential for digestion. Without reuptake, the body needs to make more bile salts by usual circulating cholesterol, which results in reduced blood cholesterol.


 2. Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids might be one of those health buzzwords you see popping up online, but they actually have an important role in maintaining heart health. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the healthy types of fats, which when eaten instead of saturated fats, have a positive effect on heart health. Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat and one of the best sources is fatty fish, such as tuna and salmon.


The human body cannot produce omega fatty acids, so it is important you and your child are eating sources in your diet. Aside from fish, the only other sources include flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.


3. Reduce Unhealthy Fats

Saturated fat can be found in the visible fat on meat, in dairy foods and processed foods including biscuits, chips and pastries and in palm oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil and butter.


It’s important to know that even though dairy products do contain saturated fats, research has found that dairy products might actually lower risk of heart disease and stroke. This is likely due to the other nutrients they also contain. It is recommended that children under the age of 2 have full cream dairy or breastmilk.


Saturated fats should be limited in your child’s diet as high intakes of foods containing saturated fat can contribute to high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and risk of heart disease later in life.


 4. Eat Plenty of Red Fruits and Vegetables

Lycopene is the predominant pigment found in red coloured fruits and vegetables. Lycopene is a power antioxidant that has been associated with heart health. The benefits of lycopene can be enjoyed in both raw and cooked fruits and vegetables as well as fresh, frozen or canned sources.

Red fruits and vegetables are also high in vitamin C, folate and are a source of flavonoids, which reduce inflammation and have antioxidant properties. Inflammation and oxidative stress are risk factors for heart disease, so encouraging your child to consume foods high in anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants are an effective way to improve their heart health!


 5. Watch Added Sugars

Added sugars are those that are added to foods and drinks to make them taste sweeter by manufacturers or by yourself at home. It comes in many forms, including brown sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, raw sugar and ingredients ending in “-ose”.


The World Health Organizations recommends a maximum of 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for children aged 2-18 years. With the average child in Australia eating and drinking more added sugar than they should, it’s important to pay attention to how much your child is consuming.


Although the way in which added sugar impacts heart health is not completely understood, it appears to have a number of indirect connections. The liver is responsible for metabolizing sugar in the body and so a diet that is high in added sugars from a young age could overload the liver down the track, which can lead to an accumulation of fat and result in fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes, which raises heart disease risk. In addition, high consumption of added sugars over time can increase blood pressure which is a risk factor for heart disease.


 6. Talk About the Importance of Heart Health

Don’t forget to talk about the benefits of heart healthy foods with your child! Studies have shown that clearly communicating a food’s nutrition benefits to children through affirming statements will help them to make healthy food decisions on their own. Of course, this doesn’t mean talking about “reducing their risk of heart disease”, but rather having age appropriate conversations and encouraging them to eat nutritious food to ensure they grow up to be healthy and strong!


If you need support or advice regarding your child’s diet, please speak with your Campus Director. Our dedicated in-house Health team are now supporting families in a home environment with phone, email and video consultations through our new Oac [email protected] program!