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Cholesterol And Your Child's Health
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. Cholesterol is made by your child's body, but also comes from certain foods your child eats. Your child's body uses cholesterol to make hormones and new cells. Your child's body also uses cholesterol to protect nerves. Cholesterol comes from foods such as meat and dairy products. Your child's total cholesterol level is made up of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides:
- LDL cholesterol is called bad cholesterol because it forms plaque in your child's arteries. As plaque builds up, your child's arteries become narrow, and less blood flows through. This increases your child's risk for heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke later in life.
- HDL cholesterol is called good cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from your child's arteries. It does this by attaching to LDL cholesterol and carrying it to his or her liver. Your child's liver breaks down LDL cholesterol so his or her body can get rid of it. High levels of HDL cholesterol can help prevent a heart attack and stroke. Low levels of HDL cholesterol can increase your child's risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke later in life.
- Triglycerides are a type of fat that store energy from foods your child eats. High levels of triglycerides also cause plaque buildup. This can increase your child's risk for a heart attack or stroke later in life. If your child's triglyceride level is high, his or her LDL cholesterol level may also be high.
How does food affect my child's cholesterol levels?
- Unhealthy fats increase LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your child's blood. They are found in foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat:
- Cholesterol is found in eggs, dairy, and meat.
- Saturated fat is found in butter, cheese, ice cream, whole milk, and coconut oil. Saturated fat is also found in meat, such as hamburgers, sausage, hot dogs, and bologna.
- Trans fat is found in liquid oils and is used in fried and baked foods. Foods that contain trans fats include chips, crackers, muffins, sweet rolls, microwave popcorn, and cookies.
- Healthy fats, also called unsaturated fats, help lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Healthy fats include the following:
- Monounsaturated fats are found in foods such as olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts, and olives.
- Polyunsaturated fats, such as omega 3 fats, are found in fish, such as salmon, trout, and tuna. They can also be found in plant foods such as flaxseed, walnuts, and soybeans.
What other things affect my child's cholesterol levels?
- Being overweight or obese
- Not enough exercise or no exercise
- Certain genes passed from your child's parent to him or her
What do I need to know about having my child's cholesterol checked?
Blood tests are used to check your child's cholesterol levels. Blood tests measure your child's levels of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol. Your child should have his or her cholesterol checked between 9 and 11 years of age. He or she should have it checked a second time at 17 years of age. Your child may need his or her cholesterol checked between 2 and 8 years of age if any of the following is true:
- Your child's parent or close relative has a total cholesterol level of 250 mg/dL or higher
- Your child's parent was diagnosed with heart disease before 55 years of age
- Your child has diabetes, high blood pressure, or smokes cigarettes
- Your child is overweight or obese
- Your child has kidney disease, juvenile arthritis, or Kawasaki disease
What should my child's cholesterol level be?
Your child's cholesterol level goal may depend on his or her risk for heart disease. It may also depend on other health conditions and family history of heart disease. Ask your child's healthcare provider if the following goals are right for him or her:
- Your child's total cholesterol level should be less than 170 mg/dL.
- Your child's LDL cholesterol level should be less than 110 mg/dL.
How is high cholesterol treated?
Treatment for high cholesterol will decrease your child's risk for health problems later in life. This includes heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Your child's healthcare provider will recommend lifestyle changes to help lower your child's cholesterol. Examples include changes to his or her diet and an exercise program. Medicine may be prescribed if lifestyle changes do not lower your child's cholesterol levels. Medicine is usually only given to children 10 years of age or older.
What changes can I make to the foods I feed my child?
A registered dietitian can help you create a healthy eating plan for your child. Read food labels and feed your child foods low in saturated fat, trans fats, and cholesterol.
- Give your child foods low in fat. Feed your child lean meats, fat-free or 1% fat milk, and low-fat dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese. Try to limit or avoid the amount of red meat you give your child. Limit or do not feed your child fried foods or baked goods, such as cookies.
- Replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats. Cook foods in olive oil or canola oil. Choose soft margarines that are low in saturated fat and trans fat. Seeds, nuts, and avocados are other examples of healthy fats.
- Feed your child foods with omega-3 fats. Examples include salmon, tuna, mackerel, walnuts, and flaxseed. Do not give your child fish that have high levels of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.
- Feed your child more plant-based foods. Plant-based foods are low in cholesterol and fat. Eating more of these foods may help lower your child's cholesterol. They can also help him or her lose weight. Examples of plant-based foods includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Give your child almond, soy, or coconut milk instead of milk with dairy. Instead of meat, feed your child beans and foods with soy for protein. Ask your child's healthcare provider or dietitian for more information on plant-based foods.
- Feed your child more high-fiber foods. High-fiber foods can help lower your child's LDL cholesterol. Give your child at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Other examples of high-fiber foods include whole-grain or whole-wheat breads, pastas, or cereals, and brown rice. Give your child 3 ounces of whole-grain foods each day. Slowly increase the amount of fiber you feed your child. Your child may have abdominal pain, bloating, and gas if fiber is added to his or her diet too quickly.
How can I help my child make lifestyle changes to lower his or her cholesterol levels?
- Help your child maintain a healthy weight. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much he or she should weigh. Ask the provider to help you create a weight loss plan for your child if he or she is overweight. Weight loss can decrease your child's total cholesterol level.
- Encourage your child to exercise regularly. Exercise can help lower your child's cholesterol level and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise can also help increase your child's HDL (good) cholesterol level. Work with your child's healthcare provider to create an exercise program that is right for him or her. Your child should get 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Examples of exercise include brisk walking, swimming, or biking. Team sports may also help your child get enough exercise.
- Do not let your older child smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can damage your child's lungs, heart, and blood vessels. They can also raise his or her cholesterol levels. Ask your child's healthcare provider for information if he or she currently smokes and needs help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your child's healthcare provider before he or she uses these products.
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.