Parent Information


Cholesterol is an important substance that the body uses to build cell walls and manufacture hormones and vitamin D.  In very young children, it also plays an important role in the the development of the brain.  However, high blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors that contribute to early onset of coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.  Research has shown that atherosclerosis (cholesterol plaques in the arteries) begins in childhood.  Atherosclerosis can eventually lead to blockage of arteries, subsequently causing a heart attack or stroke.  There are two strategies for lowering blood cholesterol: the first approach is to change diet and eating patterns, and the second is to encourage your children to exercise and stay fit.

There are two main types of cholesterol, bad (LDL) and good (HDL).  LDL, or "bad cholesterol", can be lowered by eating foods that are low in cholesterol and saturated fat; conversely, HDL, or "good cholesterol", can be increased by staying active and in shape.  LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to the arteries, contributing to the accumulation of plaque in the arteries, while HDL collects excess cholesterol and brings it back to the liver.  Saturated fats can raise the cholesterol level in your blood regardless of how little cholesterol you may consume, since they are used by the liver to make cholesterol.  Unsaturated fats, though, may actually lower your total cholesterol level.

It is very important not to restrict fat and cholesterol in children under the age of two years.  The rapid growth of children at this time requires a diet with a higher percentage of calories from fat.  Children over two years should have less than 30% of total calories from fat; in addition, less than 10% of total calories should be from saturated fat.

Foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat

  • Meat, especially red, organ, or processed meats
  • Bacon
  • Shellfish
  • Egg yolk
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Whole milk/cream
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Coconut/Palm oil
  • Avocado

Foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat

  • Fish
  • Lean meats, skinless white chicken or turkey
  • Beans
  • Vegetables/fruit
  • Nuts
  • Breads
  • Unsaturated oils (canola/olive)
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Nonfat/lowfat dairy products
  • Soy

Achieving a Step-One cholesterol lowering diet

  1. Switch to nontfat milk and lowfat dairy products.  Do this gradually; switch to 2% milk for several weeks, then to 1% for several weeks, then to skim.
  2. Choose lean meats, poultry, and fish.  You may cook chicken with the skin on, but remove it before serving.  Trim all visible fat from meat and fish.  Choose lean cuts of beef and do as little frying as possible.  Bake or broil meat, poultry, and fish instead.
  3. Limit cookies, cakes, chips, and ice cream to no more than 2 or 3 small servings a week.  These foods are loaded wih saturated fat and trans fat, which help to raise cholesterol.  These foods typically get at least half their calories from fat and they have no significant nutrition.
  4. Give you child at least five servings or fruits and vegetables daily.  Limit juice to 6-8 oz. daily, however, since juice has no fiber and fewer nutrients.
  5. Include plenty of whole grains and beans in your child's diet.  This includes high-fiber cereals, oatmeal, raisin bran, Cheerios, etc.
  6. No more than 4 eggs per week.  Consider using egg whites.
  7. Get moving!  Let your child choose forms of physical activity that he or she enjoys most.  The goal is to do 30 minutes of aerobic-type activity at least 4 times weekly.  Examples include biking, rollerblading, dancing, running, swimming, and even walking.

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