Carbohydrates For Kids: All You Need To Know

There are a lot of myths revolving around carbohydrates. The most common one is that carbs are fattening and ‘unhealthy’. If so, why do carbs constitute a vital part of our diet? We explain.

By Ashwin Dewan  • 11 min read

Carbohydrates For Kids: All You Need To Know

Carbohydrates are one of the main nutrients that make up a major part of our daily diet. Together with the other two – proteins and fats, carbohydrates make up the ‘essential three’ nutrients that the human body requires to function properly.

Over the years, carbs have been much maligned with the spotlight firmly and increasingly focused on their so-called ‘unhealthy ’properties giving them a bad reputation, especially for kids. While it is advisable to reduce the daily intake of certain types of carbohydrates, one should know about this nutrient in detail before making any changes that may have an impact on one’s health. After all, too much of carbs may be bad for kids but carbs are essential for the body to function properly.

What are carbohydrates?

When we come across the term carbohydrates, a plethora of foods appear in our mind such as foods that are starchy (bread, rice and pasta) and sugary (cakes, sweets, cookies). In scientific terms, however, carbohydrates refer to a certain type of molecules.

Carbs belong to that category of foods that gets converted into glucose or sugar during the process of digestion. And glucose plays an important role in providing fuel for the body and, more specifically, the brain.

*Dr. Neha Sanwalka Rungta, a nutritionist, says, “Carbohydrates are the major fuel for active brain cells and helps children stay alert and attentive in class. Carbohydrates also have a protein sparing effect, i.e. carbohydrates are used as source of energy by all other cells in the body too, thereby sparing proteins for growth and wear and tear of tissues. Thus, a diet rich in adequate complex carbohydrates (and low in simple sugars) is essential for adequate growth and development of children.”

Carbohydrates are of three main types

Sugars: Also known as simple carbohydrates, this type is the most basic form of carbohydrates. They are mostly found in foods such as candies, desserts, soda and processed foods. This carbohydrate refers to the sugar found naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk.

Starches: These are complex carbohydrates and include grain products like rice, bread, pasta, etc., and some vegetables like white and sweet potatoes, butternut, winter squash, etc. Made up of simple sugars strung together, starches are broken down by the body into sugars and used as energy.

Note: Complex carbohydrates can be broken down into refined and whole grain carbohydrates.

Fibre: Time and again, the health benefits of having a diet rich in fibre has been well documented. The human body, in most cases, takes time to break down most fibres. Therefore, eating fibre-rich food helps one feel full and less inclined to overeat.

A diet high in fibre has many health benefits such as

  • Prevention of stomach and intestinal issues.
  • Help to lower cholesterol and blood sugar in the body.

Note: Get your dose of healthy fibre from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains.

Healthy carbs and unhealthy carbs – know the difference

It is essential to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy carbs so that you can make calculated decisions when it comes to your diet. After all, not all carbs are healthy but then, not all carbs are unhealthy. Interesting, is it not?

Healthy sources of carbs include vegetables, fruits and unprocessed or minimal processed wholegrains. They are important for a healthy body as they are responsible for delivering vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Unhealthy sources of carbs are white bread, sodas, candies and highly processed or refined foods. Since these contain easy to digest carbohydrates, it may result in a host of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, irregular weight loss and even heart disease.

How much carbohydrates do you need in a day?

Carbs and weight gain – these two go together. Before you relegate carbs to the background completely, you need to realise that limited intake of carbs is the key. A study by EAT-Lancet Commission* published in 2019 found that Indians, on an average, ate more carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods than recommended, resulting in several health complications. Most nutrition experts recommend consuming 282g of carbohydrates per day. “However, it has been observed that the average person invariably ends up consuming more than the required and recommended amount of carbohydrates. Sometimes, even more,” says Dr Suguna, a Bengaluru-based nutritionist.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily value for carbs is 300g per day when eating a 2,000-calorie diet.

*The EAT-Lancet Commission comprises scientists from around the world who work towards a common goal – to reach a scientific consensus by defining targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production.

Types of carbohydrates to eat

While you do need carbohydrates to give your body energy, what is more important is the type of carbohydrates you choose to eat as some sources are healthier than others. If possible, do try to include mostly whole grains and refined grains such as whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal. These types offer lots of nutrients that your body needs like vitamins, minerals and fibre.

On the other hand, limit the amount of refined sugars – corn syrup, honey and white and even brown sugar. These are mostly to be found in cakes, cookies, and donuts. Not only do they lack nutrients but are extremely high in calories. Stay away… Period.

Is a low-carb diet good for health then?

Carbohydrates For Kids: All You Need To Know

This is one question that is debatable, we say. While it is good for heath to reduce your daily consumption of carbs, reducing the intake of carbs drastically may affect the proper functioning of the body. A low-carb diet involves consuming only between 25g to 150g of carbs per day. It is always advisable to consult your doctor or health care provider before starting this diet.

Tips for adding healthy carbs to your diet

Begin your day with whole grains: Say NO to white bread, sugary cereals and parathas. Try steel cut oats or fresh fruits or whole wheat bread. Whole grains are one of the best sources of carbohydrates. Plus, whole grains have high fibre content and keep your digestive system healthy.

Snack on whole grain bread: Search for bread that lists whole wheat as the first ingredient, whole rye, or some other whole grain.

Munch on whole fruits instead of juice: While it is always tempting to drink a cool glass of fruit juice thinking you are drinking good health, think again. Take an orange for instance. It has two times as much fibre and half as much sugar compared to additives-laden fruit juices. Or, make juice at home yourself.

GOOD Vs BAD carbohydrates

Listed below are key difference between good and bad carbohydrates.

  1. Good carbohydrates are slowly digested, which results in a gradual increase in blood sugar while bad carbohydrates are rapidly digested, which causes a spike in the level of blood sugar.
  2. Good carbohydrates are found in unprocessed foods where natural ingredients are not removed while bad carbohydrates are found in processed foods where natural ingredients are removed or changed during the food-making process.
  3. Good carbohydrates help reduce a number of health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease while bad carbohydrates increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Carbohydrates For Kids: All You Need To Know

Carbohydrates: Myths Vs Facts

Myth 1: Carbs make you gain weight

Fact: Depends on the type and quantity of carbs

Myth 2: Only white foods contain carbs

Fact: Other foods also contain carbs

Myth 3: Fruit juice is healthy

Fact: Fruit juice may contain added sugar

Myth 4: Don’t eat carbs before exercise

Fact: The right kind is okay to eat before working out

Carbohydrates are an integral part of a healthy diet for both adults and kids. Knowing the different types of carbs and the amount to consume daily will go a long way in helping the body perform properly for both children and adults.

Also read: 
Are millets healthy for your child?
5 nutrition rich food for young athletes
Healthy balanced diet for your child

*Dr. Neha Sanwalka Rungta is Director NutriCanvas, Ph.D. Health Sciences, M.Sc. Dietetics, CDE

About the author:

Written by Ashwin Dewan on 24 August 2020.

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