What do you do when your kid needs an instant energy boost? The most likely answer would be: give them a candy bar. Why?
The candy bar has high amounts of carbohydrates, the primary source of energy for the body. Nevertheless, carbs have been getting the short end of the stick for a long time now, thanks to low-carb diets and even no-carb diet.
But here is the truth: Carbs are not all bad. In fact, our body needs carbohydrates as much as it needs proteins and fats. MomJunction has compiled the interesting information about carbohydrates for kids, their requirement, functions and some facts.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the nutrients that our body needs to keep functioning. They are macronutrients, and one among the three compounds that our body gets its energy from. Our body gets carbs from starch and sugars present in the foods we eat. Carbohydrates can be simple or complex, based on their chemical structure. The classification is also based on how quickly our body can ingest and convert them into energy.
Simple carbohydrates are sugars made of only sugar molecules. They are further classified into monosaccharides and disaccharides. These carbs are quickly digested and are the quickest source of energy. Now you know why people eat a candy bar when they need energy quickly! Sources of simple carbohydrates include sugar, corn syrup, jams, sweet drinks, fruit drinks, molasses, candy, milk, yogurt, honey, brown sugar, and human-made carbohydrates .
Complex carbohydrates contain dietary fiber and starch that are healthier than sugars. Unlike simple carbs, complex carbs are obtained from whole foods and also contain vitamins and minerals. Best sources of complex carbohydrates include whole grains, green vegetables, beans, peas, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, quinoa, lentils, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and corn. Complex carbs are of two types: oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.
[ Read: Nutrition Food For Kids ]
Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs
The carbohydrates we get from natural foods like vegetables, fruits and dairy are called good carbs. They are absorbed by the body slowly, without increasing the blood sugar or glucose levels. In other words, complex carbs are good carbs.
Bad carbs are the man-made carbohydrates that are mostly sugars, which are found abundantly in sweets, donuts, ice creams, refined products (white rice, flour etc), lollies and sweet beverages like sodas and fruit juices.
Carbohydrate Requirements For Children
The recommended dietary intake of carbs for toddlers is 19 grams (19g), while for kids aged four to eight years, it is 24g. Girls from 9 to 18 years should take 26g per day, while boys from 9 to 13 years of age should get 31g per day. Older boys, between 14 and 18 years, should get 38g of carbs every day.
Children usually get the required carbs from the foods they eat. However, they do not always get it in the form of fiber and starch. According to the Dietary Reference Intake manual by the Institute of Medicine and the Food and Nutrition Board in the US, children should get only 50 to 60 percent of their energy from carbohydrates (1).
What Are The Functions Of Carbohydrates For The Body?
You cannot give a zero-carb diet to children, as the nutrient has six main functions in the body. Keep reading to know more.
1. Provide energy:
The carbohydrates we get from our food are broken down into smaller sugar compounds like glucose, fructose, and sucrose. These compounds, when absorbed by the blood, enable conversion of food into energy. Only a part of the glucose is used up for energy, while the rest is stored in the pancreas for later use. The dietary fiber and starch we get from food play a fundamental role in enabling metabolism, which is a critical chemical process that keeps us healthy.
More than the cells of our body, the brain depends on the energy sourced from glucose. That is perhaps why people on a no-carb or low-carb diet feel foggy after a while.
2. Burn fat:
Carbohydrates play a major role in fat metabolism. Excess energy in the body is stored as fat. To access the energy later, you need the active or working energy that carbohydrates provide. Low levels of carbohydrates can prevent fat metabolism, which can eventually lead to a condition called ketosis.
3. Enable gastrointestinal functions:
Carbohydrates provide fuel for the good bacteria in the body, which help in the production of essential B-complex vitamins. The good bacteria live off the carbs that are present in the GI tract. Carbs also help us absorb calcium better.
4. Support protein usage:
When your body does not have enough carbs, it breaks down the proteins for energy. When protein is used up as fuel, it cannot help in building muscle tissues or in the production of enzymes. By acting as the primary source of fuel for the body, carbs let the body use proteins for better functions.
5. Cellular organelles:
Carbohydrates are a part of the cellular organelles like the mitochondria, the cell membrane, and Golgi apparatus among others. In a way, carbs give certain structures in living cells a physical form. In other words, carbohydrates help in building body mass by contributing to the development of tissue cells.
6. Add flavor to food:
Carbohydrates also add flavor to the food we eat. They are also easily digested when compared to other macronutrients, which is why they can quickly supply the energy that the body needs.
[ Read: Magnesium Rich Foods For Kids ]
Do Kids Need Carbohydrates?
Absolutely! Carbs are the largest source of energy for kids and adults alike. Kids, in general, should get 50-60% of their calories from carbohydrates. Unfortunately, today carbs are blamed for the obesity epidemic overtaking the world. But the truth is that not all foods containing carbohydrates are bad. The secret is to eat ‘good carbs’.
Best Foods Providing Good Carbohydrates For Kids:
Carbs are present in a wide variety of foods including sweets, carbonated beverages, fruits, vegetables, legumes and even dairy products. Given below are some examples of carbohydrates which will help you choose the right foods and consume them in the right quantities.
- Whole grain cereals, whole grain bread, and brown rice are complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber and starch but low in glucose. These foods are also rich in certain minerals and vitamins that your child can benefit from.
- White rice, flour, pasta, noodles and white bread also have carbs.
- Legumes and beans are rich in carbs but they have a low GI. Including beans and legumes will also increase your child’s intake of vitamin B, protein, folate, and iron. All kinds of beans, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent sources of carbs.
- Starchy vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, corn, squash, beets, peas and cabbage have carbohydrates. They are rich in starch and fiber, which the body needs for healthy metabolism.
- Fruits have carbohydrates in the form of sugar compounds glucose and fructose. The good news is that fruits have more than just carbs and including them in the everyday diet will give your child the required nutrition.
- Dairy foods have carbohydrates in the form of lactose. However, milk products also contain significant amounts of fats, in addition to other nutrients. So the best carbohydrates would be low-fat or skimmed milk products.
Occasional foods like sweets, sugary beverages, cakes, pastries, ice creams, donuts, candies and sodas have high quantities of carbohydrates in the form of glucose, which gives you a rush of energy. The carbs in these foods are simple carbohydrates and are quickly converted into blood glucose.
[ Read: Best Calcium Rich Foods For Kids ]
Carbohydrate Facts For Kids
Here are some interesting facts that tell you why are carbohydrates important for your child. And surprisingly, some of them will bust the myths you have had about them.
- Carbohydrates contain large quantities of hydrogen and oxygen, and some amount of carbon as well.
- One gram of carbohydrates has four calories.
- Almost all living things consume carbs. Practically all foods have carbs in some form.
- Our bodies have a limit when it comes to the number of carbohydrates they can absorb. If you take too many carbs, they are converted into fats and add to your weight.
- Lack of carbohydrates can result in low blood sugar levels, resulting in dizziness and weakness.
- Starch is the most common form of carbohydrate we consume through foods like potatoes, bread, and rice.
- Some foods have more carbs than others. For example, rice, flour, pasta, bread and baked goods have more carbs than veggies, fruits, and legumes.
- Human-made carbs in processed foods like cakes, sodas, chocolates, candies, etc. are mostly simple carbs and react differently in our body as compared to natural, complex carbs. They provide little nutrition, but a temporary rush of energy, followed by a tired and weak feeling.
- You are likely to put on weight when you consume more simple carbohydrates in the form of sodas, chips, baked goods, pasta, burgers, pizzas and sweetened beverages.
- It is possible for us to live healthily without carbs or low amounts of carbs as the body can convert the proteins into energy. However, this prevents our bodies from using proteins for more important processes.
- Carbs, when consumed in the right quantities, will not make you fat. But if you eat more carbs and don’t exercise, your chances of becoming overweight are high.
- Plants have a carbohydrate called cellulose, which humans cannot digest as well as they do the other forms of carbs.
[ Read: Iron Rich Foods For Kids ]
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is pasta a simple or complex carb?
Unlike what most people believe, pasta is a complex carbohydrate and contains high amounts of starch.
2. What are the best food types for providing energy?
Foods like brown rice, sweet potatoes, honey, bananas, beans, and yogurt are some of the foods that you can eat for energy. These foods have complex carbs that convert into blood glucose slowly.
3. Is white rice a simple carb?
White or refined foods contain more sugar and lack starch or fiber, which makes them simple carbs.
So, are carbohydrates good for kids? The answer is yes. Your child needs carbohydrates as much as he needs proteins and fats. The key is to consume the right quantities of healthy carbs. Do not let misconceptions about carbohydrates determine the kind of foods your children eat. Remember, lack of any nutrient can affect your child’s overall growth and development significantly.
How do you include carbs in your child’s diet? Share your ideas here.
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