Carbohydrates in Children’s Diet 101: How to Best Care?

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the most important and readily available source of energy for the body. They’re a necessary part of a healthy diet for both kids and adults.

Carbohydrates are present in almost every food we eat. For example, fruits contain the carbohydrate fructose and glucose, dairy has lactose, a potato has starch, and the list goes on.

When we hear the word “Carbohydrates”, the first thought that comes in our head is a bowl of pasta, a baked potato, or a plate of rice.

Though we are right but there are other foods also that contain carbohydrates that may not be as obvious. These include nutritious foods such as fruits, dairy products, biscuits, cakes, and lollies. 

How do Carbohydrates in Children’s Diet work?

Carbohydrates are broken down in the body of our kid into simple sugars. These sugars circulate and get absorbed in their bloodstream.

As the sugar level rises, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin, which is needed to move sugar from the blood into the cells, where the sugar can be used as energy.

Their little brain also uses one of these simple sugars (glucose) as its primary energy source. This is the reason why our children require carbohydrates to stay alert and active throughout the day.

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What is the Importance of Carbohydrates in Children’s Diet?

Carbohydrates play a major role in the health of children. They help your child’s body in using the protein and fats for growth, development, and repairing of tissues.

Carbohydrates are present in three different forms i.e., sugars, starches, and fibre. When it comes to kids, they should be consuming more of the starches and fibres and less of the sugar.

What are the Functions of Carbohydrates in Children’s Diet?

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that should be present in the diet of your child. Its three major functions are:

1. Providing Energy

Carbohydrates are the fuel for your child’s body. At the time of food’s digestion, sugars and starches are broken down into simple sugars.

These sugars are then absorbed into your bloodstream, where they’re known as blood glucose.

Glucose enters the body cells and used for energy, helps in performing activities from breathing to intense exercises. Glucose that is left unused is stored in the liver and muscles or is converted into body fat.

2. Protecting against Disease 

Some studies claim that whole grains and fibre from whole foods help in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Fibre may also protect your child from obesity and type 2 diabetes. Fibre is also essential for the overall digestive health of children.

3. Controlling Weight

In the case of obese kids, eating lots of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can help in controlling their weight. The bulk and fibre content aids weight control by helping them feel full just by consuming few calories. 

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What are the forms of carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are present in different food items in two forms:

1. Simple carbohydrates (or Simple sugars)

Simple sugars include fructose, glucose, and lactose, which also are found in nutritious whole fruits.

The carbs in some foods (mostly those that contain simple sugars and highly refined grains, such as white flour and white rice) are easily broken down and cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly.

2. Complex carbohydrates (or Starches)

Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as starchy vegetables, whole grains, rice, bread and cereals.

Complex carbs (found in whole grains), on the other hand, are broken down more slowly, allowing blood sugar to rise gradually.

A diet that’s high in foods that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar may increase a person’s risk of developing health problems like diabetes.

How much is the requirement of Carbohydrates in Children’s Diet?

Though fibre is included in the daily intake of total carbohydrates, still it has separate guidelines to ensure an adequate amount of fibre consumption.

  • From the ages of 1 to 3 years, all children need 19 grams of fibre per day.
  • Fibres should be consumed 25 grams daily between the ages of 4 to 8 years.
  • At the age of 9, boys need 31 grams of fibre daily, and when they turn 14, their requirement increases to 38 grams. Girls should consume 26 grams of fibre daily from age 9 to 18.
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What are the Foods that provide Carbohydrates in Children’s Diet?

Most of the food items contain carbohydrates. It’s just that some foods are more nutrient-rich than others. Though our body treats every carbohydrate in the same way, still it is important to choose carbohydrate foods that contain other nutrients as well.

This will make sure that the child’s body not only consumes just sugar, rather it will have other nutrients also. They all will work together for the adequate functioning of your kid’s organ and system. 

Daily Food Sources of Carbohydrates:

1. Grains, Bread, and Cereals

When a child consumes carbohydrates in the form of bread, being a parent you should always look for higher fibre and low GI products. These products will provide more nutritional value and keep children fuller for a longer duration of time.

2. Vegetables

There are vegetables such as potato, corn, parsnip, sweet potato, and pumpkin that are full of starch. They all contain carbohydrates in them and are full of other nutrients. They contain many other vitamins and minerals.

Additionally, they’re a good source of fibre as well. They are a great food choice for your kids.

3. Legumes or Beans

Legumes contain carbohydrates and simultaneously they are an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, iron, and folate.

They have a low GI, keeping children fuller for a longer time and keep them away from munching on snacks. Examples of legumes include kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils.

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4. Fruits

All fruits have carbohydrates in them. These carbohydrates are in the form of fructose and glucose. Kids eating fruits will not only get carbohydrates, but also the nutritional benefit of other vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre contained in the fruits.

5. Dairy products

Dairy products like milk, curd, cheese, etc. contain a carbohydrate called lactose. These products are nutrient-rich contributing to high calcium and protein to the diet. They give your child energy for the body with strong bones at the same time.

6. Additional foods

Food items like Cakes, pastries, pies, doughnuts, chips, confectionery, sweets, and all sugary drinks also contain carbohydrates. But these items are poor in all other nutrients as they do not provide many nutritional benefits and are high in energy, fat, sugar, and sodium.

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A few Tips to Give your Child the Right Carbs

Giving your child the right types of carbs in the right amounts is not a tough job, there are just a few guidelines that can be followed to keep the kids on the right track. 

  • Avoid sugary drinks as much as possible. They include soda and fruit “ades.”. It’s better to give them whole fruit over fruit juice as fruits as full of fibre.
  • Make them eat whole-grain bread, pasta, crackers, and cereals instead of refined grain alternatives. Brown rice, whole barley, and oatmeal are also good whole grain choices.
  • Replace white flour products such as white pasta and bread in their diet with whole wheat options.

What are the Risks of Cutting Carbohydrates in Children’s Diet?

If you are trying to cut carbohydrates from your child’s diet. Be careful! Their body needs some carbs to work appropriately.

A sudden restriction on the number of carbohydrates you give to your child can make them experience symptoms such as:

  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • headaches
  • constipation
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FAQs by Parents on Carbohydrates in Children’s Diet:

  • Q: Can a low carb diet stunt the growth of my child?
  • A: Starchy carbs do not have any vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients in them. Always keep in mind that binge foods are nutritionally empty, whereas real food (vegetables, fruits, nuts, butter, meat, fish and eggs) are packed with nutrition that your kid’s body needs to grow.
  • Q: As it is said that carbohydrates help in the functioning of the brain. So giving a low carb diet will harm my kid’s thinking ability?
  • A: Though it is rightly said that carbohydrates provide glucose to the brain for its functioning but this is only half-truth. The complete truth is that certain parts of the brain use glucose as fuel, others function very well on ketones, which are produced when living on a lower-carb diet. In fact, some recent studies indicate that excess of sugar actually compromises learning and memory as well as the ability to cope with stress. So its better to keep away your kids from carbohydrates full of only starch or sugar.
  • Q: What are bad carbohydrates that I should exclude from the child’s food?
  • A: Bad carbohydrates are carbs with very low fibre content. They get digested rapidly. Rapidly digested foods result in an increase in the level of blood sugar. This increase triggers the pancreas to make more insulin, which is a hormone that makes the body store more fat.
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  • Q: What are Processed Foods? Should I avoid giving them to my child?
  • A: Foods are called processed when the natural ingredients of food items have been removed or changed during the making (the ‘processing’) of the food. For example, to make white bread, the bran and germ from wheat grain are removed to make the white flour used to make white bread. Other examples of processed foods include cakes, cookies, and other bakery items made with white flour; white (processed) rice, and some cereals. These foods also increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. That’s why organic products are preferred more.
  • Q: What is the GI in food?
  • A: GI stands for Glycaemic Index. It is a way of ranking carbohydrate-containing foods based on how slowly or quickly they are digested and increase blood glucose levels over a period of time. The GI uses glucose or white bread as a reference food – it has a GI score of 100.
  • Q: My child is suffering from type 1 diabetes, what kind of meal plan he requires?
  • A: When a child suffers from type 1 diabetes, his or her meal planning plays a very important role. Everything your child eats can affect his blood sugar. Kids with type 1 diabetes need nutrient-rich foods that help them grow, develop, and maintain a healthy weight. Over the course of a day, your child should get about 10%-20% of his calories from protein, 25%-30% calories from healthy fats, and about 50%-60% from carbohydrates.

Smit Kumar

Health & Wellness Coach: Smit Kumar believes in the philosophy of successful nutrition hunting mindset for the healthy body, mind and spirit. https://thenutritionhunt.com

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