High Cholesterol in Kids and Teens

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A mother and daughter have breakfast.

Concerned about high cholesterol in your child or teen? You are not alone. Medical professionals have observed a problematic increase in cholesterol levels in young people in recent years, coinciding with the general rise in obesity in America.

High cholesterol levels in young people are concerning because they can set the stage for a lifetime of health problems, including an increased risk for heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

Foods That Raise Cholesterol

It isn’t simply dietary cholesterol that should be avoided to lower total cholesterol levels in kids and teens, says Suzanne Rostler, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian in private practice in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and co-author of the book Ending the Food Fight.

More important, says Rostler, is looking at what foods in your—and your children’s—diet have saturated fat. Saturated fat has a bigger impact on your cholesterol levels than does cholesterol found in food. It’s found in meat (especially marbled meat), poultry skin, and full-fat dairy, including cheese and butter. Trans fats, a type of fat found in commercial baked goods, are particularly bad for your cholesterol: they lower HDL, the “good” cholesterol, and raise LDL, the “bad” cholesterol.

Foods That Lower Cholesterol

In addition to cutting back on saturated fat, there are many foods you and your kids can add to your diet that help to lower cholesterol. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, which are all good sources of fiber—a component of food that can help lower unhealthy cholesterol. Healthy fats, in particular, omega-3s, also help to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. Replace butter with canola or olive oil; choose fish instead of red meat at least a couple times a week; use nut butter or avocado on toast.

What Parents Can Do

When you’re trying to add cholesterol-lowering foods and cut back on foods that raise cholesterol, it pays to plan. Have healthy foods available for snacks: cut up vegetables ahead of time so they’re ready to grab-and-go. Keep plain low-fat Greek yogurt on hand: it makes a healthy base for fruit or vegetable dips. Limit snacks like chips and crackers made with refined grains; refocus snacks on healthy whole foods.

Remember that children of any age should never be encouraged to “diet” or follow a special meal pattern unless directed to do so by a physician.

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