To Your Health-Feb. 12, 2004

What’s the right diet for a healthy child?

By: Dr. Terry Schlimbaum
   Pediatricians and family practice physicians have a natural affinity for preventing disease in their youngest patients.
   So it’s not surprising they are becoming more and more involved in addressing the current state of affairs when it comes to overweight and obesity.
   Since we know heart disease — still the number one killer of adult Americans — can have its roots in childhood patterns and eating habits, physicians work to identify risk factors as early as possible. This way, measures can be taken to prevent to minimize problems later in life.
   That’s not to say you should rush your child into a fat-free lifestyle. In fact, children require certain levels of dietary fats for physiological functions as important as brain development. You don’t want to short-change them in that department!
   What you should consider is changing your children’s eating "style" the same way you’re probably working to change your own. Emphasize variety — we develop preferences early on, and kids will try and often accept new things.
   Address their needs for energy with high-quality carbohydrate-rich choices. And provide adequate nutritional value by taking advantage of the many choices available in diary products, grains and vegetables.
   We are fortunate to have a wide variety of ingredients available to us. It’s getting easier all the time to provide delicious, nutritious and sensible meals everyone can agree on.
   Here is a summary of the American Heart Association’s "Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Children." Discuss them with your family’s pediatrician or family physician to be sure everyone is getting what they need.
   The American Heart Association recommends these dietary guidelines for all healthy children and adolescents over the age of about 2 years:
   The following pattern of nutrient intake is recommended:
   Saturated fat — 7 to 10 percent of total calories.
   Total fat — An average of no more than 30 percent of total calories.
   Dietary cholesterol — Less than 300 milligrams per day.
   Eat foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat.
   Choose a variety of foods to get enough carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients.
   Eat only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight for your height and build.
   This eating pattern supports a child’s normal growth and development. It provides enough total energy and meets or exceeds the recommended daily allowances for all nutrients for children and adolescents, including iron and calcium.
   The guidelines aren’t intended for infants from birth to 2 years of age. Their fast growth requires a higher percentage of calories from fat. Toddlers 2 and 3 years of age may be moved safely to the recommended eating pattern as they begin to eat with the family.