Kids Health: Children and Cholesterol

We all know that high cholesterol can lead to health complications such as heart disease and stroke in adults, but did you know that managing cholesterol levels in kids diets is just as important to kids health? Current research has actually shown that coronary disease caused by high cholesterol foods actually begins during childhood. Monitoring cholesterol levels and ensuring that your child maintains a healthy and balanced diet is one of the best things a parent can do to ensure their child’s health in the future.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of lipid or fat that is produced by the liver and is used to form cellular walls as well as some hormones and tissues. Your body naturally produces balanced cholesterol diets and does not require cholesterol derived from foods in order to sustain itself.

When cholesterol lipids combine with proteins—a necessary process to allow travel through the bloodstream—they are termed lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are the two types of lipoproteins that are commonly monitored when doctors assess cholesterol levels.

How Cholesterol Works

High cholesterol levels due to an excess of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) can form plaque build-ups on the walls of the arteries leading to a condition known as atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries). This can affect blood circulation to vital organs such as the intestines or kidneys. If a blood clot is formed and gets clogged in an artery, you can experience a heart attack or stroke.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is sometimes considered "good cholesterol" since it functions to transport cholesterol away from the arteries and into the liver. High levels of this type of lipoprotein can reduce the risks associated with high LDL levels; however, in general, high cholesterol levels can lead to health problems.

High Cholesterol Factors in Children

There is no cholesterol present in vegetables, fruits, and grains. Food sources that do contain natural cholesterol include egg yolks, meat, poultry, seafood, and whole-milk dairy products such as milk, cheese, and ice cream. However, saturated and trans fats that are commonly found in baked goods and commercial snack products are the ones to avoid.

The three major contributing factors to high cholesterol levels in children are diet, heredity, and obesity. Children who exercise, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, and have no family history of high cholesterol are likely not at risk of having high cholesterol.

Minimizing Your Child’s Cholesterol Intake

The American Heart Association has designated healthy blood cholesterol levels in children and young adults between the ages of two and nineteen. A doctor can perform a blood test to determine if your child meets the healthy level of 170 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter.

Here are some tips that parents can try in order to help in reducing cholesterol intake in their children’s (as well as their own) diets:

  • Reading food labels to be aware of saturated and trans fat content
  • Choose healthy snacks such as fruits, vegetables, unsalted pretzels and popcorn, or low-fat yogurt
  • Replace red meat with other protein sources such as poultry, fish, beans, or tofu
  • Avoid butter and stick margarine and opt for vegetable oils when cooking
  • Avoid commercially prepared baked goods and snacks
  • Avoid excess sugar which can turn into fat by limiting soda and sugary juice
  • Pack healthy lunches and teach your children about healthy food options at their school cafeteria

It is generally recommended that cholesterol intake be less than 300 milligrams a day. However, speak to your doctor and have your entire family checked for cholesterol levels in order to determine what is best for you.

Exercise is crucial to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Make exercise a family affair as part of a regular lifestyle. Kids learn from their parents, and this is a great way to spend some quality time together.