What is a heart healthy diet

February 8, 2021

What is a Heart Healthy Diet

No, but really… What is really considered part of a heart healthy diet? In general a heart healthy diet is composed of lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, lean proteins, nuts and legumes and vegetable oils (note this list does not include coconut oil). Think about that for a moment… That could look A LOT of different ways, couldn’t it? That’s the amazing thing about a heart healthy diet! We can absolutely make it work for your family. It’s best to focus your energy on increasing the amount of plant foods in your diet before you start taking away other items. It’s less stressful and it starts the health journey off on the right foot. While you may need to be mindful of some of the fruits and vegetables you offer your transplant kid (grapefruits, pomegranates, or potentially high potassium foods based on your kiddo’s blood levels), there are lots of other options that fit into that heart healthy diet and won’t negatively affect your little one’s electrolyte levels. 

A heart healthy diet for your transplant kiddo could include oatmeal with peanut butter and mixed berries for breakfast, a snack of trail mix and strawberries, tofu and vegetable fried rice with broccoli and low sodium soy sauce for lunch, string cheese and sliced bell peppers for afternoon snack, and then chicken nuggets with green beans and apple sliced for dinner. 

What if my transplant kid isn’t quite ready to eat that way?

That’s okay!! Start small, today. Maybe your transplant kiddo isn’t super adventurous about new fruits or vegetables. Let’s focus on how we balance out the foods they do enjoy. Each time you serve your transplant kiddo a meal or snack, we want a combination of protein, fat and fiber. One of the easiest ways to incorporate fiber is by using plant foods. Using this combination of protein, fat and fiber helps to maintain blood sugar and to ensure a good balance of vitamins and minerals. Maybe your kid loves blueberries but you normally let them grab a granola bar from the pantry for a snack when they’re hungry. You could start by offering them the granola bar with blueberries. Then start working on them accepting granola bars which have minimal added sugars and a good amount of protein and fat from whole foods. It’s about the little wins that you can incorporate each day without adding lots of stress. Read more about balancing out meals and snacks in the Build a Better Plate post. You can also get custom guidance on this by working with Courtney. 

Dyslipidemia After Transplant 

Wait, what’s dyslipidemia? Dyslipidemia is an imbalance in the types of cholesterol in the blood. Most often it’s high total cholesterol and or high levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol). For most transplant recipients, health care providers monitor lipid panels multiple times per year along with other medication levels. That’s because we have evidence that higher blood cholesterol levels contribute to more negative side effects post-transplant. While we know that some of the medications used can cause dyslipidemia, diet also contributes to lipid levels in the blood. 

Research shows that the frequency of dyslipidemia following transplant varies wildly between organs and populations studied. The real consensus is that dyslipidemia is problematic and preventative health choices should be made to minimize the risk of developing it. After years in clinical research and in patient care, this finding wasn’t surprising to me. The medications used are so nuanced across organs and based on unique patient needs. Plus, what everyone eats is different and it’s virtually IMPOSSIBLE to get a realistic picture of exactly what’s eaten by the kiddo because we do not remember food intake with a high degree of certainty. Those inconsistencies mean we can’t fully map the diet risk factors across the transplant populations (ages, regions, organ, etc).  

Food is only part of the picture

According to the American Heart Association, physical activity is a very important component to a heart healthy lifestyle. In addition to the diet recommendations above, aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily is an important goal. Maybe your little one is still requiring therapies following transplant – that physical therapy is quite a workout and it totally counts! If your transplant kiddo doesn’t have any activity restrictions, good old fashioned play time is perfect. Make sure you’re finding an opportunity for them to get those wiggles out. And the best option is for you to get moving with them! While focusing on your little one is very important, making sure your heart is strong and healthy is equally important.  

If you’re looking to get help with following a heart healthy diet for your whole family, schedule a free call with Courtney to learn more about how she works with transplant families.

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