Looking for a way to lower your teen’s risk of developing heart disease or diabetes? Make sure they eat foods high in fiber.
A new study shows that kids who eat a diet high in vegetables and whole grains tend to have lower bad cholesterol (LDL), and improved blood sugar levels.
The study did not establish a link with metabolic syndrome and how much saturated fat or cholesterol teens ate. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist or abnormal cholesterol levels that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Joe Carlson, who heads the Division of Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition at Michigan State University in East Lansing, told Reuters Health that kids still need to limit eating fatty foods. “We know if you eat a lot of saturated fat, or trans fat, it tends to raise (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol,” Carlson was one of the researchers in the new study.
Instead, he said, it’s better to aim for a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Carlson added that fiber-rich foods are packed with vitamins, minerals and other chemicals.
Here’s how the study was conducted.
Carlson and his colleagues examined the diets of over 2,000 U.S. teens ages 12 to 19. They also tested whether the teens had three or more conditions that make up metabolic syndrome: high blood pressure, elevated levels of sugar and fats in the blood, low levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol and a large waistline.
“There has been quite a lot done on the link between exercise and metabolic syndrome, but not nutrition,” said Carlson.
Overall, about six percent of the teens had metabolic syndrome. Of those who ate the least fiber (less than three grams per 1,000 calories), nine percent had the risk factors, compared to only three percent of those who ate the most (11 grams or more per 1,000 calories).
While the study can’t prove that fiber itself was responsible for that difference, the findings resonate with current dietary guidelines, which say high-fiber diets may cut the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
“It’s a warning,” said Carlson.
Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, and more than 600,000 die of heart disease every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It used to be uncommon for a child to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or heart disease. Those were diseases associated with older adults. But times have changed. The childhood obesity epidemic has increased Type 2 diabetes diagnosis and heart disease.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) suggests that a child’s age plus five equals the grams of dietary fiber he or she should eat daily. Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The American Heart Association says that saturated fat intake should be less than 7 percent of total calories, trans fat intake should be less than 1 percent of total calories, and dietary cholesterol should be limited to no more than 300 mg daily. Children should also get the majority of calories from complex carbohydrates high in fiber.
While any food in moderation is acceptable, learning how to make good food choices starts long before a child becomes a teen. Parents should start educating their children about the benefits of good nutrition and exercise when they are little. And of course, being a good example is the best teacher.