Childhood obesity is on the rise and so are children’s cholesterol levels.
Children between the ages of 2 and 19 should have a total cholesterol level of 170 or below, according to the American Heart Association.
But poor eating and lifestyle habits are sending some children’s cholesterol levels above that threshold.
"Kids are eating way too many fast foods and processed foods,” said Tanya Zuckerbrot, a nutritionist and author of “The F-Factor Diet.”
“It’s not even the drive-thrus, it’s the refined foods, the Pop Tarts, and the white breads and the crackers and the chips that kids are snacking on. And kids are not moving as much," Zuckerbrot said.
But Zuckerbrot said all that’s needed is for kids to move a little more and to include more fiber into their diets. Fiber, according to the American Heart Association is an important dietary source for improving digestion and lowering cholesterol.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble has been shown to modestly reduce cholesterol levels, while insoluble fiber has been associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and slower progression of cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals, according to the heart association’s Web site.
Here are Zuckerbrot’s picks for high-fiber foods that will appeal to kids and help lower their cholesterol:
1. Berries. Any kind of berry is good for children, but raspberries have the most fiber, with 8 grams per cup. The skins of the fruit – like apples — also are rich sources of fiber, which will keep kids full and satisfied longer — so don't peel them.
"Mix them in pancakes, put it on top of their cereal or you can serve it for dessert on top of a little bit of whipped cream," she suggested.
2. High-Fiber Cereal. "A high-fiber cereal is one of the best ways for you kids to meet half of their fiber needs before breakfast,” Zuckerbrot said.
Many cereals contain anywhere from 4 to 14 grams of fiber in just a half a cup serving, she said.
But parents should be on the lookout for high-sugar content. She said to aim for 15 grams of sugar or less. Four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon, so if the cereal has 20 grams of sugar, a child will start off his day with five added teaspoons of sugar.
3. Beans. Beans contain 8 grams of fiber per cup, as well as body-building protein.
"Beans mix really well when you make meat dishes, so (with) meatloaf or meatballs, you can mix them in and your kids won’t even know they’re getting some high fiber beans in there," she said.
4. Pasta. Many children enjoy pasta. If your child is one of them, try using whole wheat pasta, which is higher in fiber and contains fewer refined carbohydrates than white pasta.
If your kids don’t enjoy eating whole wheat pasta because of its nutty flavor, Zuckerbrot recommended mixing white and whole wheat pasta together to get them used to the taste.
5. Soy. Use soy products whenever possible.
"They are power foods when it comes to lowering cholesterol because soy products contain something called isoflavones, which naturally reduce the bad cholesterol and reduce the risk factors for cardiovascular disease," Zuckerbrot said.
6. Popcorn. When it comes to cholesterol-lowering snacks for kids, you can’t beat popcorn, Zuckerbrot said.
One cup of kernels contains 7 grams of fiber, she said. “And compared to other snack foods, like pretzels or potato chips that contain little to no fiber, this is a snack food that kids are going to enjoy and its going to help bring down the bad cholesterol.”
Stay away from "bad popcorns," like those popped in oil or those that contain lots of sugar or salt.
7. Peanut Butter. Nuts are a high source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help in lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and prevent cardiovascular diseases.
"Peanut butter also contains some fiber. For about 2 tablespoons you get 2 grams of fiber and fiber also helps lower cholesterol,” Zuckerbrot said.
8. Dark Chocolate. Kids will probably pick milk chocolate over dark chocolate, but the dark variety is the healthiest, Zuckerbrot said.
"Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids,” she said. “And flavonoids help platelets from sticking together therefore reducing the risk factor for blood clots. In addition, studies show that it lowers the bad cholesterol by as much as 10 percent."