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posted: 2/20/2014 5:45 AM

Give your children a heart-healthy snack they will love

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  • Flaxseed can be ground and added to foods such as yogurt or cottage cheese.

    Flaxseed can be ground and added to foods such as yogurt or cottage cheese.

  • Almonds protect your heart with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, fiber and other benefits.

    Almonds protect your heart with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, fiber and other benefits.

By Christina Fitzgerald

As a parent, you want what is best for your child. Every parent does.

Unfortunately, according to the American Heart Association, about one in three American kids is overweight or obese and experiencing weight-related diseases including Type 2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure.

This statistic scares me, really scares me. It means that we're potentially setting children up for poor confidence and depression related to their weight, and potentially an earlier death.

The other difficulty is the lack of conclusive recommendations on how to treat high cholesterol in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends treating high cholesterol in children with prescription drugs, such as statins, for children age 8 and older if a child has a high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol. Unfortunately, according to the Mayo Clinic, many doctors disagree that cholesterol-lowering drugs are an appropriate treatment, since little research has been done on the safety and effectiveness of these drugs in children.

Again, as a parent, you always want what's best for your child, and with the crazy schedules of school and extracurricular activities that kids have, some nights it's a major feat just getting dinner to the table. You can take it up a notch in simple ways, even on the craziest nights, to work on preventive care for your kids' heart health.

Heart healthy food kids will eat

Kids hear "no" from us all the time. It makes me think of the silly kids book, "No, David!" that I read to my 3-year-old about 20 times on Sunday. Encouraging heart healthy eating with your kids doesn't need to always be about saying "no" to greasy unhealthier foods. Instead, you can start with focusing on how they can include foods that will promote a stronger heart.

First and foremost, when you think of heart health, think whole foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables help protect blood vessels by wiping out free radicals. Think about stepping away from dependence on granola bar type foods as snacks and instead encourage your kids to grab produce/protein snacks.

Here are some examples of easy snacks to have ready for kids to grab:

• 15 grapes OR tennis-ball sized piece of fruit plus 12 almonds OR 25 pistachios

• 1 cup mixed fresh berries or ½ cup canned fruit packed in its own juice plus 1 string cheese

• 1 mini box raisins with 12 almonds

• Fruit parfait: ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, ½ cup berries, ¼ cup granola cereal

• Half banana with 2 teaspoons peanut butter

• 1¼ cup whole strawberries and 1½ ounces reduced fat hard cheese

In addition to encouraging whole food snacks, here are three additional foods that, with a little preplanning in your grocery shopping, you can begin immediately adding to your kids' diet.

• Ground flaxseed. Flaxseed is naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and phytoestrogens which all protect the heart -- to get these benefits, the flaxseed must be ground. The best part of ground flaxseed is that it's easy to hide in a multitude of foods. Consider sprinkling it in yogurt in the morning, stir it into cottage cheese with fruit, or even bake it into muffins and cookies.

• Almonds. If you asked me for one food to add for heart health, I'd immediately respond almonds because they are overflowing with heart-protective components: omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, fiber, phytoesterols and mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Easy ways to add these to the diet is to mix them into trail mix, stir into yogurt with berries for a parfait, or pair it with a fresh fruit for snack.

• Dark chocolate. Yep, you read it correctly. Offer your kids a little chocolate. And you thought heart healthy couldn't be fun! But, make sure that it is dark chocolate and has a 70 percent or higher cocoa content. This chocolate gives you the benefit of reservatrol and cocoa phenols, which are heart protective.

Enjoy your month and love your heart!

Contact me: If you have any feedback, comments or questions on this topic or others, I would love to hear from you! Email with all your thoughts.
• Christina Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, is the owner of Nourished, Nutrition and Wellness, She lives with her husband and three young sons in the Northwest suburbs.n